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Los Angeles gets first 
Owens River Water, 1913 

Ranchers dynamite 
aqueduct, 1927 

St. Francis Dam fails, 1928 

Concreting at 
Hoover Dam, 1934 

Drought intensifies 
Colorado controversy, 1 948 

San Francisco fights Colorado flood, 1 906 

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San Francisco, California 

The Water Seekers 

by Remi A. Nadeau The Water Seekers City-Makers 




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Copyright, 1950, by Remi A. Nadeau 

All Rights Reserved 

Printed in the United States 

at the Country Life Press, Garden City, N.Y. 

First Edition 

To my loving wife, Margaret 

Part 1 

The Troublemaker, 3 

Winning of Owens River, 21 

The Big Ditch, 44 

The Seeds of Conflict, 63 

California's Civil War, 76 

"We Who Are About to Die," 93 

Flood and Drought, 115 

Part 2 

The Desert Blossoms, 137 
Runaway River, 147 
Dividing the Waters, 167 
Tempest in Washington, 191 
A Day for the Engineers, 218 
California's Lost Battle, 245 
At the Last Water Hole, 256 
The Water Quest, 281 

Bibliography and Acknowledgments, 296 
Index, 303 

Part 1 

1: The Troublemaker 

Bleak ruins stand today in the cliff country of southwestern 
Colorado and northeastern Arizona, uninhabited for more than 
six hundred years. From the time of Charlemagne to the last 
Crusades the cliff dwellers flourished there, making advances in 
irrigation, architecture, rudimentary engineering. But, beginning 
in 1276, an appalling twenty- three-year drought struck the South- 
western country. It cut the roots of the cliff dwellers' civilization. 
Defeated by nature, they moved southward in quest of water, 
leaving behind the shells of their communities in the Colorado 

In the sun-drenched Gila Valley of Arizona are the remnants 
of another Southwestern society the Hohokam people. A thou- 
sand years ago they had achieved an advanced civilization through 
the wise use of water. By patient, plodding labor they built 
elaborate canals up to twenty-five miles long, irrigating more land 
than any other people on the American continent in their time. 
They were fast developing an agricultural empire of the kind 
which founded the first-known civilizations of the Nile, Tigris, and 
Euphrates valleys. From about 1450 the Southwest was stricken 
once more with long years of drought. The great irrigators failed 
to find an answer to the terrible water famine which gripped their 
homeland. They migrated elsewhere, leaving their parched canals 
to stand unused for several hundred years. 

To the men who bear the responsibility of bringing water to 
the giant cities and agricultural empires of the modern South- 
west these stark monuments are dreadful admonitions. They offer 
unavoidable reminders that in this corner of the world civilizations 
have perished in ages past because they failed to solve the problem 
of water. For despite the technical complexity of our own South- 
western society, in one way it is more dependent on water than 
were the ancient ones. More than five million people now 
subsist in a region where native sources could serve only a few 
hundred thousand. Long, slim water arteries, with their dozens of 
capillary branches, bring the country its lifeblood from as far 
away as four hundred miles. Extending across arid desert and 
through mountain ranges, they are patrolled and maintained 
with scrupulous care. Should their faithful flow be choked off for 
more than a few months' time the civilization they nourish would 
have to migrate as surely as did the cliff dwellers and the Ho- 
hokam. Thus the lack of water, as the chief obstacle to growth 
in a society which is by nature determined to grow, continues 
to be also its chief problem. 

Since the beginnings of civilization man has tended to thrive 
most easily in regions of mild climate, where scarcity of water 
provides an immediate obstruction. Evidently it has been easier 
to search for water than to fight off the worst inflictions of nature 
in wetter regions. Thus the earliest societies in the eastern Medi- 
terranean were precariously dependent on a dogged development 
of water supply. Irrigating canals were the fundamental source 
of life in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The master engineers 
of Rome supplied their city with a dozen aqueducts, delivering 
water from sixty miles away. 

Until the rise of modern cities these Roman aqueducts were 
unrivaled. In the early i6oos the spreading metropolis of London 
turned afield for more water, building a twenty-mile conduit from 
two great springs in Hertfordshire. The United States saw its first 
big water quest when the rising city of New York, bursting with 
a population of 200,000, launched its forty-mile aqueduct to the 
Croton watershed in 1832. On its completion ten years later, 
most New Yorkers agreed with the earlier prophecy of De Witt 
Clinton: "It is not at all probable that the city will ever require 
more than it can provide." 

But New York proceeded to ignore his words and perplex her 
water engineers with an astonishing growth. Her population had 
passed 1,200,000 when drought struck in 1880. The city was 
separated from thirst by a ten-day water supply in the reservoirs 
when timely rains forestalled disaster. Having experienced water 
famine, New York lost little time in reaching out for a new 
supply. A second aqueduct, tapping the full limit of the Croton 
watershed, was finished barely in time to save the city from an- 
other desperate drought in 1891. 

The Big Town's resolute expansion sent water engineers 
farther afield by the early 19005. A hundred miles north of New 
York lay an enormous new source in the wooded and sparsely 
settled Catskill Mountains; in the ten years from 1907 to 1917 
the city built a third great aqueduct over the route, more than 
doubling its Croton supply. While construction was in progress 
another drought visited New York in 191 1, forcing house-to-house 
checkups on leaky faucets. Only by careful water conservation did 
its citizens hold off water famine until the completion of their 
Catskill Aqueduct, which served a population of more than 
5,000,000. Outpacing all other American cities in size, New 
York was also pointing the way in the business of seeking water. 

It is in the western two thirds of the United States, however, 
that water has been scarce enough to call forth the most monu- 
mental aqueducts the world has ever seen. Finding water their 
greatest limitation in the arid West, Americans have gone after it 
with typical imagination and boldness. Denver, metropolis of the 
Rockies, had reached the end of its local water sources by the 
close of the nineteenth century. It first built a great reservoir in 
the upper reaches of the Platte River, causing such a rebirth in 
local irrigation that a new supply was imperative by the early 
19205. With all possibilities exhausted on the eastern slope of the 
Rockies, Denver looked in desperation beyond the Continental 
Divide. By 1928 it had completed a giant six-mile bore, parallel- 
ing the famed Moffat railroad tunnel, to tap headwaters of the 
mighty Colorado River. 

California's bustling port of San Francisco, surrounded by the 
salt water of its own magnificent bay, was forced to go abroad 
for new water by the early 1 9003. Across the wide Central Valley 
the snowy Sierra Nevadas beckoned as an almost limitless water 

source. Organizations of nature lovers, however, fought to pre- 
serve the proposed reservoir site on Tuolumne River, and the city 
did not get the necessary land grant from Congress until 1913. 
After spending a third of a century and more than $100,000,000 
in the struggle, San Francisco received its first Sierra water from 
the 155-mile Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct in October 1934. 

Yet it is in California's southern region that water has been 
the most important history maker. Here the arid Southwestern 
country of America has met the tempering influence of the 
Pacific Ocean. The wedding of these two factors has made 
Southern California one of the most desirable spots on earth to 
live and has been the basic impetus for an irresistible tide of 
immigration. But these same climatic factors have produced a 
crucial limitation water. Like the ancient races of the arid 
eastern Mediterranean, Southern Californians must root all 
growth on a hard-won water foundation. Their long campaign for 
this precious element has extended beyond California's own 
borders, has involved the ambitions of the entire West and the 
politics of the nation. To a large extent the story of Southern 
California's economic development is the story of its water quests 
and its water fights. Some of its most revered heroes are the bold 
water men who went to far-off rivers and, like Hezekiah, "made 
a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city. . . ." 

Southern California's sparse water supply less than two per 
cent of the state's total might be less a troublemaker if it were 
delivered evenly. But the land suffers from recurring droughts, 
when the Los Angeles region may get as little as six inches of 
annual rainfall. And in the wet years much of the water volume 
runs to waste in uncontrollable floods, inflicting harsh damage 
and even loss of lives on the Southland community. 

Its greatest recorded deluge struck in the winter of 1861-62. 
For a solid month following Christmas Eve the rain fell steadily; 
whole vineyards were washed away or buried in sand ; water ran 
four feet deep through the newly founded town of Anaheim; 
adobe stores in Los Angeles crumbled under the onslaught, while 
merchants worked frantically in water up to their waists to save 
their goods. 

Every few years another such flood occurs, each one made more 

destructive by man's effect on the land. Wherever fields have been 
cleared of trees or brush, wherever forest fires have bared the 
hills, the soil's ability to absorb moisture is gone. The next floods 
sweep across the land, forming new channels and gullies, carrying 
houses and autos out to sea or burying them in sand. 

Eleven inches of rain fell in five days early in March 1938, 
pouring savage rivers out of Southern California canyons. The 
flood was smaller in volume than the 1 862 deluge, but an empire 
of 3,000,000 people now nestled where several thousand had lived 
before. Montrose, La Canada, and other communities were 
inundated. Eighty-one persons were lost, and the Los Angeles 
region was suddenly turned into a disaster area of rescue crews, 
Red Cross stations, and soup lines. Great flood control projects are 
still being built to curb the worst of such dangers, but the problem 
will remain as long as forest fires continue to scourge the Southern 
California mountains. 

Alternating with the wet years have been cycles of extreme 
drought, leaving Southland farmers without a constant source 
of water for the confident planting of crops. The drought rather 
than the flood years have shaped Southern California develop- 
ment. A year after the flood of 1861-62 a drought began which 
hastened the last days of California's colorful rancho era. For 
two years the rains failed. Hills which were ordinarily covered 
with green native grasses in winter and spring were parched and 
sterile. California's great herds of longhorn cattle, economic basis 
of its languid Spanish period, were rudely decimated. From the 
San Joaquin Valley to San Diego County, thousands of carcasses 
littered the countryside. The calamity wiped out the Southland's 
cattle and brought the storied "Days of the Dons" to a wretched 
and inglorious end. 

Out of the ashes of Southern California's stock industry rose a 
virile agricultural economy. With their herds gone and their vast 
landholdings burdened with delinquent mortgages, the cattle 
barons of the southern ranges had no course but to sell out. They 
or their creditors subdivided the ranches through the late sixties 
and early seventies, and the near vacuum of Southern California 
began to fill with droves of eager farm families. 

Finding little reliable water aboveground, they turned to the 
region's rich underground supply to test the truth of the Spanish 

proverb that "the rivers of California run bottom upward." In 
August 1868 the first artesian well in Southern California was 
brought in near Compton, a few miles south of Los Angeles, and 
before the end of the decade wells were sprouting from San Ber- 
nardino to the coast. Through the early 18705 the windmill, an 
innovation then appearing across the entire country, dotted the 
Southern California landscape in areas where underground water 
had to be pumped. But the longest recorded drought in Southern 
California history began in 1892, and for twelve years farmers 
were forced to make heavy drafts on ground resources. By 1904 
the artesian area in the Southland had shrunk by thirty-five per 
cent, with the remaining flow seriously weakened. 

Southern California farmers had already learned the same hard 
lesson that has beset irrigators throughout the arid Southwest: 
that land cannot be developed to the limit on underground water 
without a day of reckoning; that ground sources can actually pro- 
vide a mature farming region with little more than an emergency 
supply; and that the only consistent method of developing water 
reserves is to control the surface flow. The natural alternation of 
floods and droughts is against man's purposes. If he can dam up 
the huge volumes of water wasted to the sea in flash floods and 
conserve them for dry years, he can make up for nature's de- 

Irrigation from Southern California's streams, actually begun 
in the Mission period, was launched in earnest by American 
grape and citrus farmers of the mid-nineteenth century. San Ber- 
nardino, Anaheim, and Riverside were the most notable forerun- 
ners of a whole chain of irrigation colonies which sprang up in 
the i88os along the Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and Santa Ana 
rivers. Most resourceful developer was George Chaffey, a Cana- 
dian irrigationist with a bold approach to engineering problems. 
Together with other enterprisers he founded Etiwanda in 1881, 
bringing water by wooden flume and concrete pipe from a can- 
yon in the San Gabriel Mountains. Next year they launched 
Ontario on the same pattern, joining Pomona in damming the 
flow of San Antonio Canyon. Chaffey next tapped its under- 
ground flow with a 3000-foot tunnel a rare feat for irrigation 
schemes of that day and helped to make Ontario one of the 
model agricultural projects of the West. 

Between 1 880 and 1 888 twenty-five water companies sprang up 
along the Sierra Madre vineyard and citrus belt in pursuit of 
Chaffey's success. East of Cajon Pass the San Bernardino Moun- 
tains highest range in Southern California loomed above 
10,000 feet to provide enough snow water for some monumental 
projects. In 1883 the new community of Redlands turned to the 
beetling mountains for its irrigation supply and chose an ideal 
reservoir site in Big Bear Valley. It would require little construc- 
tion beside the dam, as the water could simply be turned down 
into the Santa Ana river bed to be diverted by existing irrigation 
ditches. By the end of 1 884 a narrow rock and concrete dam was 
finished just inside the present dam, and Big Bear Lake was born. 
From then on a bountiful supply of stored water served irri- 
gators in the valley below, enabling a tremendous farm develop- 
ment in the frenzied land boom of 1887. The ingenious Redlands 
enterprise had proved one of the most successful in Southern 

Then the drought of the 18903, plus the financial blow of a 
national panic in 1893, struck hard at the Bear Valley project. 
One of the new farm settlements farther down the Santa Ana 
stream bed in Riverside County sued the Bear Valley developers, 
and the case labored through the courts for years. It was the first 
round in a recurring battle between Redlands and Riverside 
water users which has persisted to the present day. But the Big 
Bear project, improved and extended over the years, has survived 
the controversies. Today its fame as a year-round resort almost 
hides from Southern Californians its primary function as an irri- 
gation development. 

Spurred by this early success, another group of enterprisers 
launched a more elaborate project eleven miles westward in Little 
Bear Valley. Into this main reservoir site, situated on the north 
side of the San Bernardino crest, they would turn the runoff of 
all neighboring creeks by means of inlet tunnels. Then the whole 
would be diverted southward through a long outlet tunnel under 
the ridge and into the San Bernardino Valley below. 

But from its inception in 1891 the imaginative project en- 
countered trouble. About 1909 its biggest setback came when 
water users on the desert side protested that headwaters of their 
Mojave River could not legally be turned out of the watershed 

into another basin. Some three years later the state Supreme 
Court, in another case, backed their stand. Broken by this re- 
verse, the Little Bear group vainly attempted one alternate plan 
after another. In the fall of 1921 a Los Angeles syndicate finally 
bought the property and the nearly completed reservoir, changed 
its name from Little Bear to Arrowhead Lake, and laid out one 
of Southern California's most famous mountain resorts. Today 
the bustling Arrowhead community stands as the robust product 
of an ambitious irrigation project that failed on a technicality. 

The vagaries of California water law, in fact, had caused more 
than shattered dreams among Southern California's rival irriga- 
tion promoters. So many new communities were crowded into the 
citrus belt by the i88os that the meager California streams were 
plastered with overlapping water filings. A conflict reared be- 
tween the adherents of the Spanish system of riparian rights, in 
which landowners along a stream held a certain share of its 
flow, and those of the Western American system of prior use 
"first in time, first in right" regardless of location. Settlements 
holding the riparian rights attached to the ranchos claimed a 
complete hold on stream water, while those less favorably located 
argued that use alone determined rights. It was a last, technical 
clash between the merging civilizations of Spanish California and 
the American West. 

By 1884 most Southland communities, striving for a water foot- 
hold through priority rights, were campaigning against "riparian- 
ism" as a deterrent to growth and progress. When the state 
Supreme Court upheld the validity of riparian rights, these 
communities raised such an outcry that the governor called the 
legislature into special session. Out of Sacramento came a new 
law, the Wright Act of 1887, which created a device to defeat 
riparianism. It permitted formation of another type of local gov- 
ernment the irrigation district which was given the right to 
finance water systems through bond issues and to operate them 
under an elective board of directors. Thus great land projects, 
not necessarily contiguous to the streams, could legally tap them 
for water. The monopoly of the riparian owners was broken. 

Southern California embraced the Wright Act with familiar 
enthusiasm. Within three years fifty irrigation districts had been 
formed in the state thirty-pne in the southern part. Their water 


bonds were eagerly seized by investors, and dirt began to fly along 
new irrigation canals. 

Beginning in 1893, the districts faced a stiff test of strength 
against a combination of reverses a national financial panic, a 
Southwestern drought, and finally a U. S. Circuit Court decision 
challenging the constitutionality of the Wright Act. For a time 
one district after another collapsed, filling the courts with credi- 
tors' suits. But when the Supreme Court upheld the Wright Act 
the remaining districts came back vigorously and sent new life 
into Southern California agriculture. Today they account for a 
big majority of the state's irrigated acreage. 

Meanwhile, water legislation on a grand scale was also brewing 
in Washington. For years Western irrigationists had realized that, 
without construction of large reclamation projects by the govern- 
ment, agricultural expansion would soon reach a limit. Since 1879 
the U. S. Geological Survey had been measuring stream flows and 
surveying reservoir sites for possible future development. But by 
the 18905 a powerful agitation was rising in the West for a pro- 
gram of federal reclamation. Most persistent of all were the 
energetic settlers in Arizona's rich Salt River Valley, where irri- 
gation by the white man had been expanding since the first canal 
was dug in 1868. With the drought of the nineties the farmers 
of the Phoenix area began to contend bitterly over water rights. 
It was plain that only the storage of floodwaters at the huge 
Tonto Basin reservoir site could permit any further growth in 
Arizona's fertile heartland. 

Led by a glib crusader named George H. Maxwell, Arizona's 
water users threw themselves into the forefront of the national 
reclamation campaign. They waged an uphill fight until Theodore 
Roosevelt came to the White House. Knowing at first hand the 
West's dependence on water, he was a ready ally of the irri- 
gationists, and helped to secure passage of the National Reclama- 
tion Act in 1902. It authorized federal construction of irrigation 
projects, to be financed by sale of public lands and repayment 
from benefited farmers. And to administer it a new agency was 
created the United States Reclamation Service. Here at last 
was the grand charter of public reclamation in the arid West. 

Available for immediate use as the program's first big effort 
was the Salt River Valley project, already surveyed and approved 

by one of the rising young engineers of the service, Arthur P. Davis. 
As soon as the legal and administrative difficulties had been 
solved by the formation of a governing Water Users Association, 
the dam site at Tonto Basin began to echo with the roar and 
tumult of construction. Early in 1911 the giant structure was 
finished and named for Theodore Roosevelt, who was on hand 
to address the jubilant Arizona throng at the dedication cere- 

Backing up the world's largest artificial lake of its day, Roose- 
velt Dam and its related works allowed a virile new farm 
expansion in the Salt River Valley and a fresh, mushroom growth 
to the city of Phoenix. It was Arizona's proudest man-made 
possession as she ascended to statehood in 1912. And as one of the 
first products of the new Reclamation Service, it opened a 
long and relentless campaign to reap the greatest use of the 
West's slim water resources. 

Yet in the farthest corner of the Southwest a civilization was 
now rising which would need more than irrigation projects for 
continued expansion. Since the boom of the i88os, which had 
launched dozens of new communities and made full-fledged cities 
out of many of the old, it was plain that in the future the prime 
duty of the Southwest's water supply would be for municipal 

San Diego was the first city to meet its new water necessities 
with imaginative action. Although the padres at San Diego 
Mission had achieved the first successful irrigation in California, 
the community had since borne a reputation throughout the 
state for water scarcity. But the dynamic boom of the eighties 
suddenly stirred San Diegans to abandon the primitive develop- 
ment of shoreward wells and creeks. Instead they turned with 
enthusiasm to a more bountiful supply in the nearby mountains 
which had previously been their greatest liability. 

By the summer of 1886 surveys had been started on a huge 
scheme originally laughed at in San Diego to build a thirty- 
one-mile flume to the city from the headwaters of the San Diego 
River. Less than three years later the formidable project was 
finished; when San Diegans turned out for the opening cele- 
bration on February 22, 1889, distinguished officials proceeded to 


ride in boats down the winding wooden flume from Cuyamaca 
Dam to the bay. This fresh source, supplying the city's great new 
population gained in the boom, came barely in time for the 
drought of the nineties. From then on San Diego has busied her- 
self building one reservoir after another in the mountains at her 
back, trying desperately to keep up with an irresistible population 
influx which has made water her number one problem. 

The inescapable fact which water officials of all Southern 
California cities have had to face is that, no matter how far they 
develop local sources, there is simply not enough rainfall in the 
region to satisfy its needs. The average annual yield at Los 
Angeles is little more than fifteen inches, while in regular periods 
of drought it has dropped as low as five and a half inches. 

One of the first methods by which Southern California chose to 
combat this dilemma was rain making a unique profession of 
which George M. Hatfield was the most celebrated practitioner. 
Contracting with cities and farmers to produce rain within a 
certain time, he would set up his mysterious "evaporating tanks" 
in the neighborhood and send volumes of chemical fumes into the 
air to assault passing rain clouds. From 1903 until the mid- 
twenties he was engaged as a rain maker by communities from 
San Joaquin Valley to San Diego. Whether he was a highly 
fortunate quack or a practical scientist ahead of his time was 
never quite determined by Southern Californians. But his repeated 
and often spectacular successes made him a fabulous South- 
western character in his day. 

On at least one occasion Hatfield's magic got completely out 
of hand. Late in 1915, after months of dry weather, he contracted 
with San Diego "to fill Morena Reservoir to overflow between 
now and next December 20, 1916. . . ." While this arrangement 
gave nature ample time to assist, Hatfield quickly launched his 
offensive. He had scarcely begun when the heavens opened up in 
January 1916 and loosed the greatest flood in San Diego's history. 
It filled the reservoir to overflowing, washed out another dam 
farther downstream, and inundated the lower outskirts of San 
Diego. That the Noachian deluge was not primarily Hatfield's 
responsibility was evidenced by equally devastating floods in the 
same month as far away as Los Angeles and the Colorado River. 
But the San Diego City Council blamed Hatfield for a disastrous 

miscarriage, refused to pay his $10,000 fee, and successfully de- 
fended its action in court. 

"We told you merely to fill the reservoir," admonished the 
council, "not to flood the community." 

Such freak efforts are only a burlesque of the prolonged and 
deadly business of water development which Southern California 
officials have pursued year after year. Los Angeles, as the region's 
metropolis, has written its most colorful and dynamic water 
history. It is through this very water pursuit, in fact, that Los 
Angeles has been able to outgrow every city west of Chicago. 
Since 1913, when it contained roughly 400,000 people, its 
growth has been founded on water brought from sources two 
to four hundred miles away. In following this unique quest it 
has engaged in some conflicts which have rocked the entire South- 

Since its founding in the late eighteenth century Los Angeles 
has had to fight for water. Holding rights to the Los Angeles 
River through an ancient Spanish ordinance, it soon encountered 
competition for its use from nearby San Fernando Mission. 
Around the present North Hollywood the padres dammed the 
river for irrigation purposes, and Los Angeles rose in anger at its 
own diminished supply. Only after a bitter legal battle did the 
pueblo secure the dam's removal in 1810. 

By the i86os Los Angeles was moving toward another and 
more desperate water wrangle. Driven by the need for a better 
distributing system than open ditches and water carts, the City 
Council offered inducements to enterprisers who would lay an 
underground pipe system through the town. The first stalwart to 
take the job installed wooden pipes that leaked abundantly and 
formed great mudholes in the streets. Then he started a new 
system of iron pipes, fed by a reservoir in the Los Angeles River 
and a giant water wheel which lifted the flow up from the city's 
main water ditch, the zanja madre. When the flood of 1867-68 
washed out his dam the contractor relinquished all connection 
with the exasperating Los Angeles water works. 

His interest was taken over by three local enterprisers, in- 
cluding Prudent Beaudry, one of the first merchants and de- 
velopers in Los Angeles. They promptly offered to complete the 
new system and pay the city a modest yearly rental in return for 


a thirty-year lease on the Los Angeles water works and rights. 
A furious public opposition greeted the move. Two other factions 
offered competing proposals, both of which substantially under- 
bid the Beaudry offer. But when the City Council came to pass the 
measure on July 20, 1868, the president silenced protests with 
the admonition, "We don't care to hear any speeches." The city's 
precious water rights were then turned over to private hands in 
one of the first skirmishes of the long contest between public and 
private ownership of Los Angeles utilities. 

For an annual rental of four hundred dollars and a modest 
amount of construction, Beaudry's company exercised control of 
the city's water for a length of time which spanned all the events 
of her tumultuous early growth the coming of the railroads, 
the great boom of 1887, the fight for the modern harbor at San 
Pedro, the development of a huge citrus industry, and the dis- 
covery of oil. From a population of about 4500 when the company 
acquired its works in 1868, Los Angeles had sprouted to nearly 
100,000 by the time the lease expired in 1898. Thus when the 
city officials chose to take back the water system the company 
fought to retain such a valuable asset. But after long negotiations 
and a hotly contested bond election it turned over the sprawling 
establishment to the city for $2,000,000 in February 1902. 

Beaudry and his original associates had not lived to benefit by 
the transaction, but their places had been taken by others who 
had found themselves caught in an unwelcome struggle to keep 
the mushrooming city supplied with water. To them fell the 
responsibility and the credit for a desperate development of local 
sources at a time when the city's population was zooming and the 
river's water volume was fading from drought. One of their 
employees, the company superintendent, lived to become the 
water hero of Los Angeles and one of the most noted engineers 
in the world. 

William Mulholland, a young Irish immigrant, had first reached 
Southern California in January 1877, debarking at San Pedro 
with ten dollars in his pocket and the resolve to "grow with the 
country." At sight of the young town of Los Angeles, with its 
pleasant climate and its surrounding display of flourishing crops, 
he saw immediately that a magnificent future could be limited by 
only one factor. 


"Whoever brings the water," he is said to have remarked, 
"will bring the people." 

Though possessing a native shrewdness and an irrepressible 
enthusiasm, Mulholland was then an unsettled youth of twenty- 
two, with little education and no firm foothold in a career. He 
had first left his Dublin home to become a sailor, but after four 
years had given up the sea and emigrated to America. On reaching 
Southern California he was caught in the mining fever of the 
day and spent an unsuccessful year prospecting in Arizona. After 
returning to Los Angeles, he got a job drilling a water well near 
the harbor, and was so impressed with the thrill of developing 
nature's resources that he resolved then and there to become an 
engineer. It was a major decision in his life, and one which im- 
mediately marked the end of his wanderings. 

Of necessity Mulholland started at the bottom as a zanjero, 
or ditch tender, with the privately owned Los Angeles City Water 
Company. He first lived in a one-room wooden shack at the 
present location of the Mulholland memorial fountain at Los 
Feliz and Riverside Drive; his job was to keep the main zanja 
madre, which flowed by his house, clear of weeds and debris. 

Mulholland's energetic shovel wielding was noticed one day 
by the water company's president, who stopped his carriage and 
abruptly demanded who the zanjero was and what he was doing. 
Mulholland, never a man to suffer imposition, looked over the 
side of the ditch and shouted that it was none of the intruder's 
damned business. The president drove on, and when Mulholland's 
fellow workmen told him whom he had rebuffed he dropped his 
shovel, donned his coat, and went to the company office to 
"get my time" before being fired. But the president, who evi- 
dently appreciated both industry and spirit in his subordinates, 
started Mulholland on his ascendancy by making him foreman 
of the company's ditch gang. 

Through the early i88os Mulholland worked by day in the 
Water Department and studied by night to prepare himself for 
advancement. Thomas Brooks, who roomed with him in modest 
quarters near the Plaza, still recalls that in the evenings Mul- 
holland used to lull him to sleep with his endess fund of humorous 
stories, and would then stay up as late as 3 A.M. reading geometry 
and engineering books. 


It was the beginning of an amazing self-imposed education 
which helped to make Mulholland one of the most paradoxical 
characters in a city which has never been known for conformity. 
On the one hand he displayed a refined taste for literature and 
classical music, a profound appreciation for the beauties of 
nature, and a deep Christian faith founded on simple confidence 
in the basic good in man. On the other, he was a fellow of rough 
temperament and rougher speech, whose repertoire of swear 
words and ribald jokes would shame a mule skinner. The Los 
Angeles Water Department staff still chuckles over his priceless 
stories and astonishing observations. When a citizen once wrote to 
the Los Angeles water commissioners and admiringly referred 
to the superintendent as a "water witch," Mulholland offered the 
relatively mild comment that, while he had never been called that 
before, he had often been called "something that rhymes with it." 

When Mulholland became superintendent of the water system 
in 1 886 he brought to the organization a spirit of practical order- 
liness. As a manager he maintained efficiency among his sub- 
ordinates by a gruff and commanding exterior. Yet the under- 
standing heart which they detected underneath, and the ready 
defense he gave them whenever criticism came from an outsider, 
earned "the Chief" an intense loyalty from his men. Nor did 
Mulholland exclude himself in his exacting discipline; rising in 
the early hours, he worked on a punctual schedule and set an 
energetic pace which his employees were scarcely able to follow. 

Having few outside interests, Mulholland's contentment was 
founded on two rocks : his large and congenial family, and a keen 
pride in his task as official water seeker to a great city. While at 
times drawing the largest salary of any Los Angeles employee, he 
cared little for money or material possessions. It is said that a 
clerk who was once cleaning out Mulholland's desk unearthed a 
check for $6000 which had been set aside and forgotten. 

The Chief, in fact, never felt at home behind a desk. 
Leaving paperwork to others, he spent most of his daylight 
hours in the field. Years of constructing and inspecting the city's 
water works were revealed in his sun-tanned face and rugged 
features. Such firsthand experience, together with his own natural 
confidence, yielded Mulholland the complete trust of Los Angeles 
citizens. The most important decisions and policies were made by 


the City Council members on his simple recommendation. "They 
have always been," he once said, "in the habit of taking my word." 

Mulholland faced his first big crisis when the drought of the 
18905 hit Los Angeles. The danger was not at first apparent, for 
while the region was gripped by almost rainless seasons the slow 
percolation process in the basin of the Los Angeles River allowed 
several years to pass before the flow faded. Mulholland believed 
that the local development of springs and other sources would 
meet the emergency. 

But a warning that the local supply would never suffice came 
from Fred Eaton, a native Angeleno whose vigorous public 
career had made him a leading figure in the city's water problems. 
Son of a forty-niner who had helped to found Pasadena, Eaton'? 
rise in Los Angeles politics had been spectacular. Like Mulholland, 
he was a self-educated engineer and, as Mulholland's prede- 
cessor in the post of Los Angeles water superintendent, had en- 
couraged him to study hydraulics and fit himself for promotion. 
Exactly a day apart in age, Eaton and Mulholland became hearty 
companions, each appreciating the other's ability and ready 

Thus after Eaton's election as city engineer in 1886, he never 
lost contact with Mulholland and the city's water situation. 
During the drought of the nineties he launched a personal quest 
for an outside water source for Los Angeles. By the time Eaton 
swept into the mayor's office in 1899 he had reconnoitered as 
far as the Kings River in the Sierras, and even to the distant 
Colorado. The first he dismissed as yielding too little water by 
any gravity aqueduct; the second was altogether too costly a 
possibility for a city of less than 100,000 people. 

As early as 1892, however, Eaton had visited another source 
over two hundred miles northward in Inyo County the bounti- 
ful Owens River which drained much of the eastern Sierra slope. 
Here in the serene and mountainbound Owens Valley, first won 
from warring Paiutes in the 1 86os, a pioneer community had been 
abiding for a generation. Originally supported by flourishing cattle 
and mining industries, the valley had subsisted on a rising agri- 
cultural economy since the first big irrigation ditches were built 
in the late 18705. On this foundation a series of farm communities 
sprang up, from Lone Pine and Independence in the lower 

valley to Big Pine and Bishop in the more developed northern 
end. By the time Eaton saw the valley so much water was being 
diverted by the resourceful farmers that the level was already 
beginning to sink in Owens Lake, the expanse of briny water at 
the river's lower end. 

Eaton returned to Los Angeles and described the region as a 
magnificent source to his friend Mulholland. In 1892, however, 
the drought had scarcely begun, and the Chief laughed at the 
need for any water beside the Los Angeles River, which had 
served the community well during his fifteen years in California. 

"We have enough water here in the river," Mulholland chided, 
"to supply the city for the next fifty years." 

"You are wrong," Eaton replied. "I was born here and have 
seen dry years years that you know nothing about. Wait and 

During the decade of drought that followed, as Mulholland 
himself described it, "our population climbed to the top and 
the bottom appeared to drop out of the river." In an attempt to 
develop its last drop of moisture, Mulholland had already 
launched a plan to catch the underground flow by a system of 
infiltration galleries. But the strategic spot for the headworks, 
situated in the narrows between the Cahuenga and Verdugo 
hills, was owned by two private enterprisers who asked an 
extreme price for their land and water rights. 

Los Angeles moved to condemn the property, claiming rights to 
the entire river and the underground basin by virtue of its 
original Spanish pueblo grant. After a six-year legal battle the 
celebrated case of Los Angeles vs. Pomeroy and Hooker was 
settled by the state Supreme Court in 1899. The city won the 
last and most far-reaching suit in a legal defense of the Los 
Angeles River which had lasted nearly a century. Henceforth 
it held rights to all water in the basin needed for its municipal 
supply, and could even prevent farmers upstream from pumping 
water from wells. The San Fernando Valley, then witnessing the 
beginnings of irrigation, found its development abruptly cut off 
and its future condemned. 

Already, however, the fruits of the city's victory were fading in 
relentless drought. Nature herself had attacked the Los Angeles 
River, and she was, as Mulholland commented, "beyond the 


reach of mundane law and exempt from suit." At first his frantic 
pursuit of improvements was hindered by the water company's 
unwillingness to spend money while negotiations were pending 
for sale to the city. But in February 1902 the transaction was com- 
plete; Mulholland and his staff were retained in charge, and im- 
mediately mended their water defenses. The infiltration galleries 
were built to catch all the underground flow of the Los Angeles 
River, while meters were introduced for factories and other heavy 
users to reduce consumption. 

Yet the continued drought drove the Los Angeles River down 
to a new low by the summer of 1903. In mid- July the city's con- 
sumption began to exceed the inflow into its reservoirs, which were 
able to hold little more than a two-day supply. Mulholland im- 
mediately ordered drinking water pumped from the zanja madre, 
the community's main irrigation ditch. Still the rate of use out- 
ran the supply. Actual water famine was only averted by periodic 
letups in the hot spell, when temporary drops in consumption 
allowed the reservoirs to fill again. Mulholland reported that but 
for the metering of the most wasteful users the reservoirs would 
have gone dry. 

Already, in fact, the Chief was turning in desperation to under- 
ground sources with a large pumping plant below the city. But, 
as in the case of numerous other wells in the area, this only aided 
the ten-year drought in lowering the water table. It soon became 
clear that at the current rate of growth Los Angeles was not only 
approaching its own limit but was entering into a contest for 
water with outlying agricultural districts. Already San Fernando 
Valley rendered barren by city lawsuits to prevent the pumping 
of water stood as an example of sacrifice before the prior neces- 
sity of Los Angeles. 

By 1904 the sprouting city was close to actual thirst. During 
the heat of the summer there was no water available for park 
ponds, and as Mulholland reported, "It might as well be made 
known that it is not probable there ever will be in the future." 
Beginning on July 20, a severe hot spell brought a ten per cent 
rise in consumption over supply. The reservoirs were half emptied 
in ten days. Mulholland sent out warnings against lawn sprinkling 
and other excessive use. Public reaction and a timely relief in the 
heat wave lowered consumption enough to allow the reservoirs 


to be replenished. Once more Los Angeles had escaped actual 
thirst, but only by Mulholland's rare ingenuity. 

While the Chief took on heroic stature among Los Angeles 
citizens as a water magician, they were more impressed by another 
realization. Their city's spectacular growth, and its exuberant 
plans for future greatness, had now been cut off for lack of water. 
The hopes for increased expansion that had been raised by devel- 
opment of Henry Huntington's new Pacific Electric transit sys- 
tem, the Los Angeles Harbor, the latest Eastern rail connection 
via Salt Lake, would never be fulfilled. The belief by Huntington 
and other enthusiasts that Los Angeles was destined to be "the 
most important city in the country, if not in the world" was now 
exploded like a promoter's dream. 

If Los Angeles apparently stood at the end of her resources, 
Mulholland did not. In desperation he remembered Fred Eaton's 
mention of a water source in the Sierras. While Los Angeles reeled 
from the water famine of July 1904, Mulholland went to Eaton 
and asked him to "show me this water supply." It was the begin- 
ning of a monumental adventure which would rejuvenate a 
stunted city, precipitate the West's most tumultuous water war, 
and incidentally catch up and determine the lives of the two 

2: Winning of Owens River 

By the time Mulholland turned to Eaton's suggestion the water 
potentialities of Owens Valley had been discovered by no less a 
force than the United States Government. Engineers of the young 
Reclamation Service, turning with gusto to the initial task of sur- 
veying the West's potential irrigation projects, had entered the 
valley in June 1903. They found not only an ideal reservoir site 
at Long Valley, just north of Owens Valley, but also a farming 
community thriving on a new-found market in the booming 
Tonopah gold mines of Nevada. As soon as Owens Valley's alert 
citizens realized the purpose of the government surveying party, 
they virtually exploded with enthusiasm. After languishing for 
decades because of its isolated position between the Sierras and 

the great Southwestern desert, Owens Valley seemed ready in 
the conviction of its people to blossom as a large-scale agri- 
cultural empire. 

In Fred Eaton's view, the situation called for strategy. To 
get a closer view of the government's plans, he turned to one 
of his many friends, Joseph B. Lippincott, chief of Reclamation 
Service operations in the Southwest. A noted builder of irrigation 
systems throughout California, Lippincott had long been an ad- 
viser on water matters for cities from Denver to Los Angeles. He 
was one of those gaunt but tireless workers whose energy seems 
to come from nowhere. A careful technician, somewhat colorless 
in personality, Lippincott was essentially a serious-minded engi- 
neer, one of the best known in Southern California. It was not 
surprising that, when he headed for the Owens River in August 
1904 to inspect the federal investigations, Fred Eaton was one 
of several friends accompanying him for an "outing" in the 

Journeying to Yosemite, they crossed the Sierras by pack train 
over Tioga Pass; at Mono Lake they met J. C. Clausen, the young 
California engineer who had charge of the government surveys. 
Riding southward with them into the Owens River country, Clau- 
sen gave Lippincott an enthusiastic report on the yearlong in- 
vestigation. His words did not fall unheeded by Fred Eaton. By 
the time the group reached Long Valley, which Clausen had rec- 
ognized as the natural reservoir site for an Owens Valley reclama- 
tion project, Eaton knew the government had a feasible irrigation 
project which would obstruct any outside use of the water once it 
was approved in Washington and dam construction was begun. 
If Los Angeles was to gain this vast watershed for its own he must 
act and quickly. 

But if Eaton's mind was racing ahead during the party's labori- 
ous recrossing of the Sierras, Lippincott and his other companions 
are said to have been ignorant of his monumental scheme. Back 
in Los Angeles, Eaton confided to William Mulholland that the 
city must move immediately if it intended to stake a claim in 
Owens River. Within a week after his return Eaton was on his 
way north again to show the water supply to Mulholland. 

Driving a two-horse buckboard, the two friends "roughed it" 
across the Mojave Desert, camping in the open and living on 


simple rations of bacon and beans. On September 24 they stood 
in the shadow of the massive Sierras, two hundred and fifty miles 
from Los Angeles, while Eaton showed Mulholland a placid val- 
ley of green fields and abundant water. In the meandering Owens 
River and its tributaries flowed at least 400 cubic feet of water 
per second enough to provide a city of 2,000,000 people. 

The main obstacle in the scheme was easily apparent. For days 
Eaton went over the ground with Mulholland, proving by 
barometer and rough calculations that the water could be di- 
verted around the briny Owens Lake and carried southward by 
gravity. Convinced at last, Mulholland jubilantly returned to Los 
Angeles. He had glimpsed the key that would free his city from 

Ahead of him, Mulholland knew, lay more than engineering 
obstacles. There were the questions of water rights, of federal 
authorization, of financial backing, and countless smaller issues 
that must be overcome before construction could begin. But to 
Mulholland they were a challenge, and this was fortunately the 
thing on which he thrived. 

The first problem was Eaton himself. Instead of returning with 
Mulholland he had hurried to New York City to interest Eastern 
investors in his part of the venture. For Fred Eaton had conceived 
it as a joint private and municipal enterprise. Mulholland, how- 
ever, had no such intention. Quickly he sought out William B. 
Mathews, smooth and able Los Angeles city attorney. Finding him 
already in New York on business, Mulholland wired him of 
Eaton's movements. Mathews hurriedly got in touch with Eaton 
and intercepted his plans with the argument that "the city ought 
to be given a chance, at least, to act on the matter. . . ." The 
enterpriser agreed to return and open negotiations directly with 
Los Angeles. 

It was not the first contribution that Mathews had made to the 
city's water foundations. An energetic Los Angeles attorney since 
the early nineties, he had been a leading spirit in the city's legal 
fight for title to the entire Los Angeles River watershed, and in 
the campaign for municipal ownership of the water works. Soft- 
spoken and deliberate, Mathews was at his best in the hard 
strategy of a courtroom trial, or as an irresistible advocate of the 
city's cause before congressional committees in Washington. In 

his dealings with opponents of Los Angeles he exemplified the 
velvet glove on the iron fist a man of inordinate patience, of 
scrupulous fair play, of moderate approach, but absolutely un- 
swerving in purpose. Nor did Mathews allow his practicality to 
dilute a basic quality of idealism. Behind his suave exterior, an 
imaginative mind nurtured the dream of a vast city-owned water 
and power system to bring unlimited industrial and residential 
growth. Elected city attorney in 1901, Mathews left the office a 
few years later to become the Water Department's chief counsel 
and to share Mulholland's place as creator of the city's modern 
water foundations. 

Through the winter of 1904-5 the two men were negotiating 
with Eaton for an agreement on the Owens Valley scheme. They 
soon found, however, that Eaton had already realized he must 
offer Los Angeles more than an idea. In mid-March 1905 he 
traveled to Carson City, Nevada, and asked cattleman Thomas 
B. Rickey if he would sell his Owens Valley ranch. To Rickey the 
property was merely several thousand acres of grazing land. But 
to Eaton it was the Long Valley dam site, the aqueduct diversion 
point north of Independence, and the necessary water rights 
southward to Owens Lake. On March 22, after a week of dis- 
couraging negotiation, Eaton snatched his hat and headed in 
despair for the railroad station. Rickey followed and settled for a 
two-month option of $450,000. To bind the deal Eaton handed 
him $100 a paltry consideration for an option on the corner- 
stone of any Owens River project. 

His bargaining position bolstered, Eaton took his proposal to 
the Los Angeles Board of Water Commissioners. Within a month 
a party of seven city officials was in Owens Valley to see the water 
source at first hand posing as "cattle buyers" while Eaton signed 
hotel registers "Fred Eaton and friends." They could not afford 
to reveal their true purpose, for fear of sending an army of specu- 
lators flocking to Owens Valley. 

On their return, however, the officials found that Los Angeles 
newspaper editors had not overlooked their absence. To insure 
press silence they explained the whole scheme with the under- 
standing that the secret would be kept until notification from the 
water board that the deal had been closed. In this way the Los 
Angeles taxpayers would be protected from the land sharks who 
customarily descend on impending public projects. 


As for the details of Eaton's plan, the city authorities were 
exultant. Mulholland had told them, on the basis of his rough 
field surveys and calculations, that the 25O-mile aqueduct would 
cost just about $23,000,000. From a report by Mulholland and 
J. B. Lippincott they had final confirmation of the distressing lack 
of water sources in Southern California. The abundance of the 
sparkling liquid in Owens Valley they had seen with their own 

One more obstacle remained before Los Angeles could commit 
itself to Eaton's proposal. The Reclamation Service had placed 
its stake in the Owens River and was still busy investigating the 
valley's possibilities as an irrigation project. Los Angeles faced 
formidable odds as long as the federal government held an inter- 
est in the headwaters of the river. 

But J. B. Lippincott, head Southwestern engineer for the Recla- 
mation Service, had known of Eaton's scheme for months at 
least since the fall of 1 904. Though an enthusiastic reclamationist, 
he was first of all a citizen of the ambitious city of Los Angeles. 
Rightly or wrongly, he told Water Department officials that the 
government might step aside in favor of the municipal project. 
It must be, however, "public owned from one end to the other." 
Late in May 1905 the chief engineer of the Reclamation Service 
was in Los Angeles, backing up Lippincott's stand. 

Here was the first big crisis in the city's enormous water pro- 
gram. Eaton was notified that there could be no room for a 
private enterpriser within the Owens Valley scheme. It was a 
soul-searching decision for Eaton, bringing into conflict his funda- 
mental training as a public servant and his equally strong finan- 
cial ambition. But the man was big enough to relinquish his inter- 

"God bless him," Mulholland later commented, "I would like 
to see a monument to him a mile high when this city gets the 
aqueduct through." 

The sacrifice left Eaton determined to make no more conces- 
sions. He insisted on keeping those parts of the Rickey ranch not 
needed for the aqueduct, including some 4000 head of cattle. As 
it was conceded that the Long Valley reservoir site would not be 
needed in the initial aqueduct plans, Eaton withheld it too. The 
day after a verbal agreement was reached, however, Mulholland 

and Mathews approached Eaton for an easement in Long Valley, 
to be used when the city grew big enough to need a year-to-year 
storage reservoir. 

This was too much for the patient Fred Eaton. He told them 
he was giving them "enough for the money" and would not let 
them flood his valley. Bargaining became so heated that Mulhol- 
land and Mathews left him with the threat that they would close 
negotiations and "stop all proceedings." Next day they came back 
and secured Eaton's reluctant consent to a reservoir easement per- 
mitting a dam one hundred feet high. 

For the first time they had dealt with Eaton, as Mulholland 
described it, "at swords' points and arms' lengths." The impor- 
tant compromise which resulted allowed only a small fraction of 
Long Valley's capacity as a reservoir, and made it certain that 
there would be insufficient water for both Los Angeles and Owens 
Valley in any future drought. Though none of the parties could 
foresee it at the time, here was born the bitter Los Angeles Aque- 
duct controversy, and the basis for the eventual sacrifice of Owens 

Before the end of May, Eaton took up Rickey's option and 
turned it over to the city, causing the cattleman to howl indig- 
nantly that the two of them had missed an opportunity to reap 
a fortune. Eaton and his son Harold then began buying the re- 
maining water rights in lower Owens Valley and conveying them 
to Los Angeles. But at this point the water secret commenced to 
burst at the seams. More than one Los Angeles promoter appeared 
in Owens Valley to option land for resale to the city at exorbitant 
prices. Eaton not only found himself hurrying to complete the 
buying but found land values rising as Inyo farmers saw a sudden 
and mysterious interest in their remote agricultural land. 

One of the first to realize the city's connection in the Eaton 
dealings was Wilfred W. Watterson, president of the Inyo County 
Bank of Bishop. Born in San Joaquin Valley, Watterson had 
arrived in the Owens River country with his parents in 1885. 
A general merchandising business in Bishop had brought them 
the means to found the Inyo County Bank, of which Wilfred 
was now president and his brother, Mark Q. Watterson, treas- 
urer. A man of high affability and universal popularity, Wilfred 
had recently brought the first automobile into the valley a fif- 


teen-horsepower White Steamer. On Sundays he would drive it, 
loaded with rollicking Inyo citizens, over every dusty road in 
upper Owens Valley. But though equally cordial in his business 
dealings, he was a man highly conscious of his own financial 
interests and jealous of his position of leadership in valley affairs. 

Watterson's fears of invasion by Los Angeles were confirmed 
when City Clerk Harry J. Lelande arrived to complete the trans- 
actions which Eaton had placed in escrow at the Inyo County 
Bank. Though young in years, Lelande was experienced enough 
as a public official to guard his steps carefully in a town where 
his movements were the object of well-based suspicion. After 
completing the transfer of one important ranch property, he im- 
mediately walked to the Bishop Post Office and mailed the deed 
to the courthouse at Independence. But Wilfred Watterson, dis- 
covering his identity, called him back to his office at the bank 
and made an abrupt demand. 

"We want that deed back." 

"What deed?" inquired Lelande innocently. 

When Watterson named the transaction Lelande explained 
that he did not have the document. 

"You're not telling the truth," Watterson charged. Stepping 
to his feet, he locked his office door. 

Lelande made no move to oppose him, but declared steadily, 
"I can't give you something I haven't got and wouldn't be 
obliged to if I did." 

Watterson opened a drawer and laid a revolver on his desk. 
Calmly he ordered the astounded city clerk to shed his coat and 
trousers and allow his pockets to be searched. When the deed was 
not produced Watterson pocketed the revolver, called to an em- 
ployee outside his office, and told Lelande, "We're going over to 
your hotel room and see if we can find that deed." 

Gathering himself together, the outraged Lelande accompanied 
the two men across the street while Watterson berated him for 
"buying land in an underhanded way for the city of Los Angeles." 
In his room in the Bishop Hotel, Lelande's satchel was ransacked 
in vain, and Watterson abruptly left him without an apology. 

Declaring that the banker would "not hear the last of this," 
Lelande lost little time in telephoning to W. B. Mathews; al- 


though the city attorney was sympathetic, he advised Lelande not 
to "make any fuss over it." To the city officials as well as to the 
Owens Valley banker, the incident of the missing deed was insig- 
nificant enough, but it symbolized the greater struggle only then 
beginning for possession of Owens River. 

By this time Lippincott and the Reclamation Service realized 
that the abandonment of their operations in Owens Valley would 
require a public explanation. A three-man board was appointed 
to examine the proposed government project and, as the head of 
the Reclamation Service described it, "bring the matter to an 
early close." 

When the group met in San Francisco late in July the decisive 
report was made by J. C. Clausen, the young engineer who had 
conducted the surveys in Owens Valley. Though cautioned by 
Lippincott to keep his remarks "general," Clausen gave a glow- 
ing account of prospects for reclamation in Owens Valley. Lip- 
pincott then told the board that, regardless of its feasibility, the 
government project should be abandoned in favor of Los Angeles. 
In their report of July 28, 1905, the engineers favored the proj- 
ect unless the men who had bought key property for Los Angeles 
had made it impractical. 

This, of course, is precisely what they had done. On the same 
day that the government board rendered its report Bill Mulhol- 
land arrived in Los Angeles after a final land-buying trip in 
Owens Valley with Fred Eaton. 

"The last spike is driven," Mulholland jubilantly told city offi- 
cials; "the options are all secured." 

Also on that last Owens Valley trip had been a Times reporter. 
On the same day, with or without Mulholland's knowledge, a dis- 
patch reached the Times from Independence. Next morning the 
paper appeared with the banner headline, "Titanic Project to 
Give City a River." Over the whole front page was spread the 
sensational Owens River story. Many amazed readers had never 
heard of the place before. 

But all at once Los Angeles saw its destiny unfolding again. 
Fed by this new water source, it could reach a population of 
2,000,000. With the one obstacle to development suddenly re- 
moved, Angelenos greeted the news, as one observer described it, 
"with acclamations of joy." 


Immediately property in much of Los Angeles County doubled 
in price. San Fernando Valley, whose agriculture had been 
choked off by the city's prior need of the Los Angeles River, now 
took renewed vigor. Copies of the Times were no sooner dumped 
on the depot platform at Burbank than valley property began 
to soar. Within ten days Burbank city lots had jumped five hun- 
dred per cent, new buildings were going up, and real estate firms 
had optioned thousands of dollars' worth of ranch land in San 
Fernando Valley. 

Less enthusiastic, however, were the other Los Angeles news- 
paper editors, who had agreed to hold the Owens River story 
until the water board gave a signal. Most indignant of all was 
William Randolph Hearst's new Los Angeles Examiner; as the 
only other morning paper in town, it had suffered a twenty-four- 
hour scoop by the Times. When the Examiner promptly charged 
the Times with breaking faith, the latter retorted that it had 
simply "got the anxiously-awaited news of the consummation of 
the deal before anyone else, and printed it." 

While the two newspapers squabbled, the worst effect of the 
Times story was felt in Owens Valley. Its settlers, maddened 
enough by the abandonment of their reclamation project in favor 
of Los Angeles, were doubly confounded to hear the first word 
of it from a Los Angeles newspaper. Their rage was complete at 
the Times observation that "it probably means the wiping out 
of the town of Independence," and a quotation from Mulholland 
that Owens Valley land "in most cases is so poor that it doesn't 
pay to irrigate it." Telegraph wires had scarcely relayed the news 
story to Owens Valley when its outraged citizens turned to find 
an object for their wrath. 

It was soon learned that Fred Eaton and his son were still in 
Bishop, closing some last-minute affairs. While the streets of the 
town buzzed with threats, a friend found the two men at the old 
Clark Hotel and warned that a mob was forming to seize them. 
With remarkable calm the Batons packed their bags, left the 
hotel, and walked down a block to the livery stable. When the 
hostlers refused to hitch Eaton's team to his buckboard the two 
did their own harnessing while a menacing crowd watched from 
across the street. Eaton refused to be flustered, but made the 
concession of taking off a red sweater in response to his son's 


warning that it would "make too good a target." Climbing into 
the wagon, the two swung the team into the street and drove out 
of town at a deliberate pace. Bishop watched them go in anger, 
unable to bring itself to the point of violence. 

Fred Eaton left the valley by train the night of July 31, after 
writing a letter to the Independence newspaper denying any 
wrongdoing. He intended to spend his fortune and his life in 
Inyo County, he announced, and hoped that "in being a good 
neighbor I shall have an opportunity to retrieve myself and clear 
away all unhappy recollections." Then he stormed into Los 
Angeles and roared his fury at the position in which the Times 
story had caught him. 

"Up there in the Owens River country," he declared, "they 
say I sold them out, sold them out and the government too; that 
I shall never take the water out of the valley; that when I go 
back for my cattle they will drown me in the river." 

Owens Valley, in fact, was only beginning to bare its rage. It 
moved now to strike back at the most vulnerable link in the city's 
careful plan Lippincott's arbitrary rejection of the proposed 
federal reclamation scheme. First spokesman for the valley was 
the land registrar at Independence, who immediately took its 
cause to the highest authority in letters to the Secretary of the 
Interior and even to the White House. Because of Eaton's friend- 
ship with Lippincott, he told Theodore Roosevelt, farmers had 
optioned land to him believing he was a government agent. 

"In justice, therefore," he concluded, "to the people here, in 
the interest of fairness and of the honor of the Reclamation Serv- 
ice, I appeal to you not to abandon the Owens River proj- 
ect. . . ." 

At the same time the whole valley was joining him in outraged 
protest. In a rousing mass meeting at Bishop on August 2 the 
settlers vented their rage in fervent speeches against the deeds 
of Eaton and Lippincott, and chose a citizens' committee to take 
action. A demand was then sent to the Interior Secretary for an 
investigation of Reclamation Service men who were using their 
positions to turn the valley's water over to Los Angeles. 

Furious journalistic support was provided by editor Willie A. 
Chalfant, whose newspapers had recorded valley history since his 
father had arrived with its first press thirty-five years before. 

Under the startling headline, "Los Angeles Plots Destruction," 
his Inyo Register had already trumpeted the news of what he 
called "the greatest water steal on record." But the paper's main 
attack fell on "Judas" B. Lippincott, as Chalfant called him, 
who was charged with having used the government machinery 
"with a view to despoiling the very lands it was supposed to re- 
claim. . . ." 

Inflamed by such outcries, feeling against Lippincott ran so 
high that when he passed through Bishop in August on an inspec- 
tion trip to Long Valley a group of stalwarts conspired to waylay 
him on his return and "ride him out of the valley." But cooler 
heads prevailed at a mass meeting on the day of his expected 
arrival, and Lippincott was allowed to pass out of Inyo County 
on his own accord. 

By this time the barrage of valley protests was taking effect 
in Washington. Engineer A. P. Davis was bearing the brunt of it 
as acting director of the Reclamation Service in the absence of 
his chief, and wrote him hurriedly that "we cannot clear the skirts 
of the Reclamation Service too quickly nor completely." An in- 
vestigation of Lippincott' s operations was ordered, during which 
some of the charges were disproved and others supported. One 
damaging fact could scarcely be overlooked : while serving as an 
officer in the Reclamation Service, Lippincott had also been em- 
ployed as a consulting engineer by the Los Angeles Water De- 
partment. And despite his original acceptance of the reclamation 
job on the understanding that he could maintain his private prac- 
tice, such a dual interest was specifically forbidden by federal 

Although Lippincott was never formally charged with these 
complaints, Arthur Davis had decided by the last of August that 
"the only safe way for the Reclamation Service is to encourage 
him to devote his time to private practice. . . ." The following 
May, Lippincott resigned his Reclamation Service post and 
promptly took a $6,ooo-a-year job on the Los Angeles Aqueduct. 
It was regarded in Owens Valley as a final installment in his 
"reward for past services." Lippincott had been a leading instru- 
ment in the city's plans, but he had also succeeded in burden- 
ing them with the uncompromising antagonism of some four 
thousand Owens Valley citizens. As for Eaton and the other Los 


Angeles men, they realized too late that their determined secrecy 
had struck in the wrong quarter. They had been so absorbed in 
protecting the city against speculators that they had been blind 
to the ambitions of Owens Valley settlers. 

By late August 1905 the harassed Los Angeles water seekers 
were fighting the cry of scandal from another direction. Possibly 
still chagrined at the Times scoop, the editor of the Examiner had 
been doing some shrewd research in local records. On August 24, 
in the midst of a bond campaign for an initial $1,500,000 to 
launch the project, his paper scored its own scoop with a charge 
aimed at both the Times and the Owens River scheme. 

Early in 1905, as the Examiner explained, the i6,2OO-acre 
Porter Ranch had been purchased by a group of investors which 
included Harrison Gray Otis of the Times and Edwin T. Earl 
of the Express, two political enemies who had united to support 
the Owens River project. General Otis, a man of extraordinary 
achievements as a soldier and newspaperman, had even then 
gained nationwide notice as a fiery exponent of the open shop. 
Earl had made a fortune in the fruit shipping business and since 
1899, as publisher of the Los Angeles Express, had offered politi- 
cal opposition to Otis. The Examiner's implication was that 
through inside knowledge before the aqueduct scheme was made 
public these men were able to buy up San Fernando lands which 
stood to be transformed from desert to garden by the application 
of Owens River water. To leave no mistake, the Examiner next 
day followed with a caustic editorial. 

"Why should Mr. Eaton and his confreres have given the 
profitable tip to Messrs. Otis, Earl & Co.?" asked the editor. 
"Was this a consideration for newspaper support?" 

The effect of the accusations was instantaneous. Earl sent for 
the Examiner editor, told him that he was misinformed, and 
concluded that he was too suspicious. Fred Eaton later came 
around to the Examiner office and in a fit of anger threatened 
to assault its editor. Otis' Times called the charge "the very es- 
sence of absurdity," and pointed out that the first payments on 
the property had been made in 1903, when the Owens River 
project was unheard of. The Examiner promptly replied that, 
while an option had been taken in 1903, "the real money" had 


not been laid down until the spring of 1905, when the aqueduct 
scheme took definite shape. 

The explanation was not far wrong on details, but it had 
taken a tremendous jump at conclusions. In October 1903, George 
K. Porter, son of a founder of San Fernando, had given a three- 
year option on his ranch at a price of more than a half million 
dollars. The prospective buyer was L. C. Brand, president of the 
Title Guarantee and Trust Company, who planned to extend an 
electric railway to the valley town and subdivide the land for sale 
to incoming settlers. It was a formula which both Brand and his 
associate, Henry E. Huntington, were then using with success 
throughout Los Angeles County. Sharing the venture with him 
were Huntington, Otis, Earl, and several others noted for their 
heavy investments in Southern California real estate. Not long 
afterward they were joined by General Moses H. Sherman, pio- 
neer street-railway magnate and a member of the Los Angeles 
water board. 

At the outset they could not possibly have known of the Owens 
River project, or of its benefit to San Fernando Valley as a source 
of irrigation water, for it had not even taken definite form in 
Fred Eaton's mind. But after the fall of 1904, when Mulholland 
returned from Owens Valley and outlined the scheme to a hand- 
ful of city officials, they could have caught the news. While Gen- 
eral Sherman was not one of those whom Mulholland originally 
notified, his position on the water board gave him a valuable ear 
to the ground during the first whisperings of Owens River. At 
any rate, on November 28, Otis and his associates incorporated 
the San Fernando Mission Land Company and took up the op- 
tion on the Porter Ranch in March 1905. Although they had 
originally sought the three-year option for one of their familiar 
subdivision developments, they probably exercised it within a year 
in the belief that the city was bringing in a new water source to 
be shared by San Fernando Valley. 

The early charge, however, that "Otis, Earl & Co." were given 
inside information in return for newspaper support is warranted 
more by hearsay than by fact. Certainly the later exaggerations 
of the affair, which picture Otis and his fellows conceiving the 
Owens River project as a way to irrigate their San Fernando 
lands at public expense, have little foundation. Eventually they 

made millions in valley real estate, but their main offense con- 
sisted in doing what any other investors would have done when 
they got wind of an unexpected benefit to land they had optioned. 

Most Angelenos, in fact, were too aware of their city's desperate 
water needs to be swayed by the Examiner's San Fernando story. 
Mulholland had already announced that defeat of the initial 
Owens River bond issue would mean "utter ruin for Los Angeles." 
Around August 26 the annual hot spell struck the city and water 
consumption began to soar. Reservoir levels dropped at the rate 
of 3,000,000 gallons a day. By the first of September Mulholland 
warned that at current consumption rates Los Angeles would 
probably be out of water within three weeks. 

Later on the enemies of the aqueduct charged that this water 
famine, as well as those of 1 903 and 1 904, was artificially created 
by city officials to get a favorable vote on the aqueduct bonds. 
It was alleged by some that water was turned into the sewers to 
lower the levels in the reservoirs; yet since those reservoirs were 
never connected with the sewer system, this would have been im- 
possible. Others have claimed that in contradiction to Mulhol- 
land's warnings the reservoirs always held plenty of water. But 
the Chief knew better than the skeptics the absolute need for 
maintaining a safe margin against actual thirst. As Thomas 
Brooks, who was then in charge of city water distribution, has 
wryly commented, "A reservoir's no good if it's dry!" The plain 
fact then confronting the Los Angeles water officials was a ten- 
year drought which by 1905 brought a forty per cent deficiency 
in the flow of the Los Angeles River. 

The hot spell subsided a few days before the first bond election, 
leaving Los Angeles citizens with another pointed reminder that 
no San Fernando bugaboo could hide their basic water dilemma. 
Even the Examiner was won over when the water board agreed 
to engage an impartial board of nationally known engineers to 
pass on the project. At the same time William Randolph Hearst 
arrived from San Francisco and, possibly at the request of city 
officials, told his Los Angeles editor to "help them along on the 
bond issue." On September 3, in a front-page editorial said to 
have been written by Hearst himself, the Examiner wheeled about 
and supported the Owens River project. Four days later the 
people voted in the initial bonds by a 14-1 majority. City officers 


W. B. Mathews and William Mulholland, steering their Owens 
River aqueduct over a rough course of accusations, had placed it 
a step further toward the day when dirt would fly. 

Ahead of them lay a more formidable task, which carried them 
from local affairs to the national scene. Since most of the aque- 
duct route and reservoir sites lay along public lands, the blessing 
of the federal government was needed. And this time they would 
have to go beyond the Reclamation Service to the halls of Con- 
gress. By mid-September the water board was enlisting the aid 
of Senator Frank P. Flint, veteran lawmaker from Los Angeles, 
whose prominence in the national Republican party made him 
a valuable ally in the city's descent on Washington. 

But Owens Valley, having lost the first battle for its reclama- 
tion project, now threw itself into the path of this new Los 
Angeles effort. On hand to defend its cause was Congressman 
Sylvester C. Smith, whose district included Inyo County. A man 
of energy and nerve, Smith had given up his private career as a 
Bakersfield newspaper editor a few years previously to devote him- 
self entirely to public affairs. He now leaped to the side of Owens 
Valley, charging that it was to be desolated for the benefit of irri- 
gation in San Fernando Valley. 

By January 1906, Smith had proposed a compromise for the 
Los Angeles plan. Let the Reclamation Service, he said, proceed 
with its reservoir project and distribute the water first to Owens 
River farmers, then to the city of Los Angeles for domestic pur- 
poses only. If any were left it should go to additional irrigation 
in Inyo County. 

To Mulholland and Mathews the suggestion was unthinkable. 
Their whole project was based on the belief that most of the 
Owens River flow would eventually be needed by the booming 
city of Los Angeles. In order to hold title to all the water rights 
they had acquired in Owens Valley, it would be necessary to 
show a fairly constant use of them. At first there would be a 
surplus, but the water men planned to use this on agricultural 
lands into which the city's residential area would eventually ex- 
pand. They could not allow their water source to be restricted 
against irrigation by Smith's proposal. 

In Owens Valley, however, the people took up the plan with 


the battle cry, "Not one drop for irrigation!" Inyo County news- 
papers swung behind it, while W. W. Watterson and other valley 
leaders wrote articles for Los Angeles consumption favoring not 
more than 300 cubic feet per second for municipal use only. The 
valley was perfectly willing, said W. A. Chalfant, "to accommo- 
date need, but not greed." 

First skirmish in the "no irrigation" fight came in mid-June 
1906, when Senator Flint introduced the city's bill to get a right 
of way for its aqueduct across public lands. It passed the Senate 
with little opposition, but Sylvester Smith was waiting for it in 
the House. There the Public Lands Committee promptly side- 
tracked the bill by referring it to the Interior Department for 
approval. Smith then offered his amendment prohibiting irriga- 

With the bill thus in jeopardy, Mulholland, Mathews, and two 
other Los Angeles delegates boarded the eastbound train for the 
scene of conflict. On June 21 they met with Smith in Senator 
Flint's Washington office. There they agreed to accept his amend- 
ment forbidding irrigation if he would support the right-of-way 
bill itself. With his point apparently won, Smith went with them 
next day to urge approval from Secretary Ethan A. Hitchcock, 
head of the Interior Department. The amended bill, providing 
for municipal use only, was then sent back to the House commit- 
tee freed of opposition. 

But if Congressman Smith believed he had won his "no irri- 
gation" crusade for Owens Valley he was reckoning without the 
ingenuity of the Los Angeles delegation. As long as a higher 
authority remained above the Secretary of the Interior, its mem- 
bers were not reluctant to make a final stand. Late on the night 
of June 23, just before action was due in the House, Senator 
Flint called at the White House. 

Theodore Roosevelt listened while he outlined the issue and 
explained that Los Angeles was now providing water for the next 
half century of growth. A continuous consumption of the whole 
supply, even if partly for irrigation, would be necessary to pro- 
tect its water rights under existing law. It was, Flint said, "a hun- 
dred- or a thousandfold more important to the state and more 
valuable to the people as a whole if used by the city than if used 
by the people of Owens Valley." 


The President was convinced. When he proposed to Secretary 
Hitchcock that the irrigation limit be withdrawn, however, he 
was told that this would permit a few individuals to benefit by 
an irrigation scheme an idea obviously planted by Congressman 
Smith's statements on the Otis-Brand syndicate in San Fernando 
Valley. Yet at the same time other government officials, having 
already been visited by the Los Angeles delegation, backed up the 
city's stand. Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt's personal 
friend, assured him that "there is no objection to permitting Los 
Angeles to use the water for irrigation purposes." 

It was a puzzling decision for Roosevelt. But in the end he was 
probably swayed by the added fact that a power company which 
had located in the Owens River gorge was also fighting the Los 
Angeles bill. To the veteran trust buster this was enough to war- 
rant automatic support for the city's plans. While Senator Flint 
and the Interior officials sat in his office Roosevelt dictated a let- 
ter asking that the irrigation restriction be removed. As for the 
opposition of the "few settlers in Owens Valley," he declared that 
"their interest must unfortunately be disregarded in view of the 
infinitely greater interest to be secured by putting the water in 
Los Angeles. . . ." 

The House Public Lands Committee was considering the Los 
Angeles bill, together with Smith's amendment, when the Presi- 
dent's letter arrived. Its effect on the committee members was 
immediate. Realizing that it was impossible to fight Roosevelt's 
decree against water limitation, Smith announced bitterly that he 
submitted "to the orders of the schoolmaster." He secured several 
minor amendments, but the main issue had been won by Los 

On June 27, 1906, the city's delegates were able to send home 
a jubilant message: "Owens River right-of-way bill has passed." 
Early in July they arrived by train in Los Angeles to receive a 
victors' welcome. "We got what we went after," beamed Mul- 

But when Owens Valley heard the outcome in a telegram from 
Smith its settlers angrily called it another relentless step in what 
seemed now to be a conspiracy against them. More than ever the 
isolated community had the desperate feeling of loneliness. In the 
absence of protection by even the federal government, it must 

look to its own resources for defense. It was plain that the Los 
Angeles water seekers, made desperate by their city's thirst, were 
pushing their project with an uncompromising campaign. 

Nor was this the end to the government's contribution. Now 
committed wholeheartedly to the Los Angeles cause, the Interior 
Department moved next to proclaim the formal abandonment of 
its Owens River reclamation project in July 1907. But thousands 
of acres of public land, withheld from entry while the scheme 
was pending, were not restored. Los Angeles was being protected 
from private water and power filings which might impede its 

To gain the same defense throughout the whole length of 
Owens Valley, city authorities asked the government in Septem- 
ber 1907 to "extend the eastern boundary of the Sierra Forest 
Reserve." Such a request fell within the province of Chief For- 
ester Gifford Pinchot, apostle of the conservation movement then 
capturing the country. The fact that the Forest Service Law had 
specifically exempted from reservation any land more valuable 
"for agricultural purposes than for forest purposes" did not deter 
Pinchot from including the plans of Los Angeles in his conserva- 
tion program. 

Three investigators were sent into the valley before a report 
was returned favoring forest extension over an area where the 
only trees in sight for miles in any direction were those planted 
by farmers. On April 20, 1908, the proclamation extending the 
Sierra Reserve came to President Roosevelt's desk with Pinchot's 

When Congressman Smith heard of it he hurried to Roosevelt's 
office and found there his old water foe, Senator Flint. Smith 
promptly charged that the Forest Service was being used "to con- 
fiscate property for the benefit of Los Angeles," which "intends 
to make use of part of the water from Owens River to irrigate 
lands at San Fernando." Flint denied the accusation and declared 
that Smith was "misrepresenting Los Angeles." The irate con- 
gressman then turned to Theodore Roosevelt, who was about to 
sign the proclamation before him. 

"I hope, Mr. President," Smith cautioned, "that you will not 
be found on the side of Los Angeles in this fight." 

Roosevelt, unmoved by his charges, answered with distracting 
calm, "That's exactly what I am doing right now." 

"Well, I should like to talk with you further before you act," 
pleaded Smith. 

"You don't need to talk," snapped the President. "I am doing 
the talking." 

With that he signed the proclamation and extended the Na- 
tional Forest Reserve over treeless Owens Valley. Nearly four 
years later the restriction was removed by President Taft after 
it had protected the Los Angeles water rights from harassment 
by speculators during most of the aqueduct construction. Yet 
from this distance it seems that Los Angeles could have been 
accommodated without such wholesale juggling of the public 
domain. Individual applications in specified areas could have 
been made subject to the city's approval without making it, as 
one Inyo spokesman stated, "the suzerain of Owens Valley." To 
the extent that this purpose was aided by federal officials, from 
Lippincott to Roosevelt, they have been hailed in Los Angeles 
and maligned in Owens Valley. 

Reaction of Inyo's citizens, in fact, ranged from bitterness to 
defiance when they received Smith's telegram announcing the 
forest extension. Chalfant of the Register looked ahead with the 
weary hope that "there may be a new deal some other day." The 
Inyo Independent, agreeing that "Los Angeles has been given all 
that she asked for," added ominously, "except the water." 

But the city's water men were too engrossed in the swift prog- 
ress of their plans to hear the warning. Since the fall of 1906, 
when the promised board of consulting engineers had pronounced 
the aqueduct "admirable in conception and outline," they had 
been hurrying ahead with the final details. One last step separated 
them from actual construction voting of bonds for the $23,000,- 
ooo which Mulholland had said the big ditch would cost. With 
the election set for June 12, 1907, Los Angeles launched another 
of its familiar water campaigns. The foes already assembling 
gave promise that this would be the most tumultuous of all. 

In January the president of the Pacific Light and Power Com- 
pany interviewed Mulholland and asked about "the possibility of 
making some arrangement with the city" about the project. But 
with some choice sites for power generation waiting along the 
aqueduct, the Los Angeles water men were not inclined to relin- 


quish the opportunity to private hands. They were, in fact, as 
determined to enter the field of public power as the electric com- 
panies were to keep them out. And here began the first clash in 
the public-private power battle that would rock Los Angeles for 
a generation. 

Opening shots had already been fired by the Los Angeles 
Evening News, which according to common gossip had received 
financial support from the power companies since its inception in 
1905. The paper's editor was Samuel T. Clover, a capable but 
hot-tempered newspaperman who had been an editorial writer 
for the Express until he locked horns with publisher Earl and 
found himself out of a job. When Clover, not a man of means, 
promptly turned up with his own newspaper and soon began at- 
tacking the Los Angeles Aqueduct, conclusion-jumping was in 
order. Any connection with the power companies, however, was 
denied by Clover, who in fact seemed to conduct his fight with 
the sincere conviction that the water project was against the city's 

The gist of his objections was that the scheme had been hatched 
to benefit Otis and the San Fernando land syndicate, and that to 
pay for it the people were being heaped with "financial burdens 
so excessive that they may ruin the city's credit. . . ." To bolster 
his cause he also claimed that the waters of the Owens River were 
too strongly impregnated with alkali, and that an ample 200 
second-feet of water was available from the Los Angeles, San 
Gabriel, and other Southland rivers. But, said Clover, "what good 
would that do the Porter Ranch syndicate?" 

By mid-May 1907 the bond contest was mounting in fury, with 
the rest of the city's six newspapers all clamoring for Owens River 
water. Heading the drive was the Times, which showed by statis- 
tics that other Southern California water sources were far too 
slim, and that the added taxes for the aqueduct were small 
enough to make it a remarkable bargain. As for the alkalinity of 
Owens River, the Times took the News's own figures to prove 
that it was purer than the current supply from the Los Angeles 
River. With editor Samuel Clover persistently calling the $23,- 
000,000 issue the "Alkali Bonds," the Times in turn labeled him 
"Alkali Sammy." Otis' paper remained silent on the San Fer- 
nando land accusation, however, until Mayor A. C. Harper came 


to see him and explained that it was undermining his support of 
the aqueduct bonds. 

"If you are willing to come out with a denial," he told Otis, "it 
will be a good campaign argument for Owens River." 

Otis agreed and, when asked whether he could back up the 
refutation "in case of comeback," said that he could. In a prompt 
letter to Mayor Harper, published in the Times on May 24, the 
general avowed that he had sold his stock in the San Fernando 
Land Company in Februry 1905. "As a matter of fact, I have no 
private property interests whatsoever in the San Fernando Val- 
ley." It looked as though the black smudge of "special interest" 
had been wiped from the aqueduct at last. 

But that evening Glover's paper nailed the denial by pointing 
out that the Times had admitted Otis' interest in the San Fer- 
nando company as late as August 1906. The Times could only 
answer that it had been mistaken in August 1906. It is a matter 
of record, however, that Otis still held his interest at least a month 
after he claimed it had been sold. His denial could hardly be 
accepted by the public at face value, and on this one issue, at 
least, Clover came off the victor. Yet while a personal stake in the 
bond election might have tended to minimize Otis' campaign 
arguments, the general public did not believe that the Owens 
River project had been initiated for his benefit, or that his interest 
made it any less imperative to bring in the new water supply. 

Clover's frenzied opposition, however, had the effect of rallying 
the aqueduct's supporters for a heroic fight. When campaign 
headquarters for the water bonds opened in the Chamber of 
Commerce offices they were backed by every type of Los Angeles 
organization from the Business Men's Bible Class of the Magnolia 
Christian Church to the Woman's Goldfield Mining Exchange. 

No medium of expression was overlooked in publicizing the 
aqueduct. An informative pamphlet, the Owens River Primer, 
was circulated by the thousands. Store windows carried placards 
for the water bonds, while two business houses displayed detailed 
replicas of Owens Valley and the proposed aqueduct. Legitimate 
theaters showed photographic slides of scenes in Owens Valley. 
Newspapers carried large advertisements exhorting the people to 
"Work and Vote for the Owens River Water Bonds June 12." 
Pedestrians' coat lapels blossomed with buttons bearing the slogan 


"I'm for Owens River Water," to which were attached tiny vials 
of the liquid. Automobiles were decked with huge pennants dis- 
playing the words "Owens River Vote for it June 12." For once 
Angelenos were taking the same talent for publicity with which 
they had belabored the East for years and turning it on each 

Even the city's high school children studied the problem, held 
auditorium debates, and on the evening of June 8 staged a street 
parade for the aqueduct. Added support came from the Los 
Angeles Ministerial Union, which voted to set Sunday, June 9, as 
"Aqueduct Day" in the city's churches. Throughout town, church- 
goers heard sermons based on such texts as "He showed me a 
river," and "Everything shall live whithersoever the river com- 
eth." Comedy was provided by members of a Los Angeles men's 
club, who drank toasts to the success of the project with Owens 
River water that had been bottled and sealed before a notary 
public. At a ladies' afternoon card party the hostess made a point 
of using Owens River water in the tea. The aqueduct's enthusi- 
asts were obviously determined to explode the alkali myth. 

Equal zeal was shown by the project's opponents, who passed 
out handbills bearing the message, "Help defeat the greatest 
swindle ever organized west of New York." Chief speaker in the 
anti-bond campaign was the fiery Job Harriman, Socialist nomi- 
nee for governor of California in 1898, and for U. S. Vice- Presi- 
dent in 1900. Curiously uniting with private power interests 
against a pioneer public enterprise, he argued that the Los An- 
geles River could supply all the city's needs without bringing in 
outside water that would benefit the San Fernando landowners. 

But the rallying point of opposition was Sam Clover and his 
Evening News, which was soon charging vehemently that Mul- 
holland, Lippincott, and other water officials had initiated the 
project for the rather pointless purpose of being "continued in 
office" at their regular high salaries. Lippincott finally became so 
incensed at these jibes that when an Evening News reporter went 
to interview him at his office he slammed the door with the ex- 
clamation that he had "nothing to say!" 

This personal attack on the city's water men helped to lose 
Clover the sympathy of most Angelenos. Outraged merchants 
began withdrawing their advertising, while the paper's circulation 


dropped almost ten per cent during the spring of 1907. Facing 
financial ruin, Clover still continued his uphill fight. By June 8 
he was devoting almost the whole newspaper to the campaign, 
startling his readers with a two-page headline: "Taxpayers: The 
Bonds Will Swamp You. Vote No If You Would Save Your 

The assault also served to stir Mulholland from his campaign 
silence, despite his own oft-spoken words that "politics and water 
don't mix." Armed with maps, charts, and a glib Irish tongue, the 
old engineer took his crusade before men's organizations in every 
precinct of the city. 

"Our population has doubled since 1904," he warned his listen- 
ers, "while our water supply has diminished." Because the Owens 
River was the only adequate source, "the defeat of these bonds 
would be absolutely fatal to the prosperity of this city." 

The Chief's entry into the campaign marked its final, spirited 
climax. For ten days before the election Mulholland, Lippincott, 
and Mayor Harper spoke at campaign meetings almost every 
night sometimes several during the same evening. The main 
crisis, however, came in a rousing rally in Simpson's Auditorium 
on Hope Street, held two nights before the balloting. Aided by 
lantern slides, Lippincott was earnestly describing the abundance 
and purity of Owens River water when a fly blundered into the 
machine and was projected onto the screen. For an embarrassing 
moment it seemed that the intruder was fulfilling Sam Clover's 
claims on the contamination of Owens Valley water. But the rally 
chairman was equal to the emergency. 

"That is a picture," he announced, "of the only microbe in 
Owens River." 

Over on Spring Street that same night the aqueduct foes 
gathered in their last big rally. Job Harriman and other speakers 
argued that the city did not need such a water supply, that the 
aqueduct could never be built for $23,000,000, and that it would 
be demolished with the next earthquake. It was a last, futile 
effort to stem a tide of enthusiasm for Mulholland's aqueduct. 

On the morning of June 12, after one of the most turbulent 
campaigns Los Angeles had ever seen, the aqueduct forces began 
reaping their harvest of votes. Some eighty-four autos and twenty 
carriages, donated for the cause, shuttled through the precincts 

all day long to bring supporters to the polls. That night the 
results showed a 10-1 victory for the Owens River project. There 
was no doubt that Los Angeles had voiced a mighty cry for water. 
Undaunted, the plucky Sam Clover put out an extra and made 
an editorial bow to the will of the people. "The Evening News" 
he said, ". . . has been beaten to a standstill. We will take our 
medicine without a protest." More than anything else the Owens 
River campaign was the cause of his paper's demise the following 
spring. "Our love for Los Angeles," he declared in a final edi- 
torial, "impels us to hope we were wrong." Clover had, in fact, 
performed the invaluable service of forcing Angelenos to fight for 
their aqueduct, had left them with a militant spirit of unity where 
water was concerned. 

3: The Big Ditch 

With the technicalities past, Mulholland now took his battle to 
the rugged mountains and forbidding desert that lay in the aque- 
duct's route. From the beginning there seemed no question that 
the Chief himself, who had ample experience in building water 
storage projects throughout Southern California, would superin- 
tend the digging of the great ditch. 

"I wanted one big job before I died," he once remarked. "I'll 
be glad to know that I did it." 

His first assistant was tall, methodical J. B. Lippincott, with 
whom Angelenos were already acquainted from his part in the 
acquisition of the Owens River. Though Mulholland was some- 
times exasperated at Lippincott's painful paperwork, more than 
once it came to his rescue when city officials demanded figures 
and records. Handling the complicated legal matters of rights of 
way and financing was W. B. Mathews, who left his job as city 
attorney to become legal counsel for the aqueduct, and afterward 
for the Water Department. 

"I did the work," Mulholland used to say, "but Mathews kept 
me out of jail." 

At the outset the Chief cautioned that construction of the big 
ditch would be less of a problem than supplying Los Angeles with 

water from local sources in the meantime. Already, in the high- 
level sections of the city, faucets were dry early in the evenings 
during the summer. But with almost half of water services metered 
and seven new municipal pumps drawing underground water 
from the surrounding territory, Mulholland was able to make 
water resources meet water consumption as he embarked on the 
strenuous task of building the largest aqueduct in the Western 

From its head gate on Owens River north of Independence, 
a great open ditch was surveyed along the foothills of the massive 
Sierras to take the water out of Owens Valley and into the first 
reservoir site at Haiwee. South of this main storage point the 
flow was to be carried by closed conduit first in a series of 
tunnels and steel siphons along the jagged mountains that form 
the west rim of the Mojave Desert, and then in a covered con- 
crete trough across a corner of that desert to the Coast Range 
north of Los Angeles. Here, with a catchment reservoir at each 
end, the giant five-mile Elizabeth Tunnel would take the stream 
through the mountains and afford the generation of electric 
power in San Francisquito Canyon. After another series of tun- 
nels and siphons across the rugged canyon country below, the 
water would splash into the final reservoirs at San Fernando 
Valley, 223 miles south of the Owens River intake. 

By the end of 1907 Mulholland's crews were in the midst of a 
gigantic preparatory operation that rivaled the actual excavation 
itself. A 240-mile telephone line, more than 500 miles of roads 
and trails, and some 2300 buildings and tent houses were con- 
structed to facilitate work along the route. To provide another 
needed item of 1,000,000 barrels of cement, Los Angeles con- 
structed its own cement plant at Monolith on the Tehachapi 
plateau. The scarcity of water in this desert region almost elimi- 
nated the use of steam power. So the city built two hydroelectric 
plants on Owens Valley creeks and 169 miles of transmission 
lines, making the aqueduct the first major engineering project in 
America constructed primarily by electric power. 

Throughout this early period Mulholland's great concern was 
whether civic officials would leave him alone enough to get the 
preliminary work done. Actual excavation was scarcely under way 
by December 1 908 when the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce 


invited Mulholland to attend a meeting. Its members, knowing 
little of the engineering preliminaries involved, intended to know 
why so much time had been consumed and so little dirt removed. 
In the midst of the meeting the chairman asked Mulholland for 
an informal report on aqueduct progress. 

"Well, we have spent about $3,000,000 all told, I guess," Mul- 
holland answered solemnly, "and there is perhaps nine hundred 
feet of aqueduct built. Figuring all our expenses, it has cost us 
about $3300 per foot." 

He paused while the startled Chamber members digested his 

"But by this time next year," he concluded, "I'll have fifty 
miles completed and at a cost of under $30 per foot, if you'll let 
me alone." 

The tension in his audience resolved into cordiality. 

"All right, Bill," laughed the chairman. "Go ahead; we're not 
mad about it." 

By the middle of 1908 word of the Los Angeles undertaking had 
traveled through the construction camps of the West, and an 
army of transient labor began converging on Los Angeles. "Blan- 
ket stiffs," they were called a roistering, hard-drinking lot, but 
experienced in the drill and shovel work of great engineering 
achievements. Fresh from Western colleges came a different 
breed hardy young engineers who gained their first field experi- 
ence in the rigorous desert life on Mulholland's ditch, and who 
proved their mettle as the backbone of aqueduct construction. 

The American public as a whole did not fail to notice the 
spectacle of the Southwest's largest city reaching more than two 
hundred miles across arid desert for life-giving water. Through- 
out the Eastern states people watched the project unfold with the 
realization that Los Angeles had now taken first rank among the 
great cities of the country. Correspondents from Scribner's, the 
Literary Digest, and other national magazines kept America in- 
formed on the progress of Mulholland's ditch. Los Angeles found 
the aqueduct as valuable a publicity item as any project of its 
famed Chamber of Commerce. Many an Eastern family headed 
for Los Angeles with the conviction that its bold water pioneering 
had made it a city of opportunity. 


Actual excavation had begun as early as September 1907, when 
a crew of forty men pitched camp in San Francisquito Canyon 
and broke ground at the south portal of Elizabeth Tunnel. Built 
to carry Owens River water through the Coast Range into South- 
ern California, the five-mile bore would determine the length 
of time for construction of the entire aqueduct. By early October 
another hard-bitten crew was opening the north face, determined 
to reach the center mark before the rival gang beyond the crest. 

At first the men at the tunnel headings drilled the powder holes 
with hand tools; but early in 1908 heavier equipment arrived, 
and the work was ordered pushed ahead "with all possible speed." 
Henceforth electric motors hummed at the tunnel mouths, driving 
the air compressors which sent power to the drillers deep inside 
the mountain. At each face of the bore two grimy stalwarts at- 
tacked the granite with their vibrating air hammers, making such 
a dreadful clatter that orders could be given only in signs. After 
every blast a fresh crew would take over and shovel the "muck" 
into electrically operated cars. When the face was cleared the 
new gang started up the air hammers for another bite into the 
granite mountain. 

By July 1908 a system of bonus payments was begun to carry 
the work forward at even greater speed. A base rate of advance 
was fixed at eight feet per day; beyond this each underground 
workman received forty cents a foot in addition to his regular 
pay. As a result the air drills and explosions shattered the moun- 
tain at a faster pace than before. In some months the advance 
was doubled over the ordinary base progress. While many miners 
earned a majority of their pay in bonuses, Mulholland was able to 
drive the tunnel through at a saving of $500,000 and 450 days out 
of the original estimates. 

At the south portal the crews soon captured the American 
hard-rock tunnel record, repeatedly breaking their own mark to 
reach the furious pace of 604 feet in a single month during April 
1910. In the north end the treacherous rock made the advance 
less spectacular. To superintend this backbreaking job, Mulhol- 
land picked John Gray, a stocky, round-faced tunnel expert with 
long experience in the mines of Colorado, Wyoming, and Mexico. 
Working in water-soaked granite, broken and fissured by the 
nearby San Andreas Fault, Gray drove his crews forward in a 


race to beat the south-portal crews to the center in spite of 

The advance went well until mid- August 1908, when the 
miners struck a body of saturated sand and gravel that brought 
dangerous caving and flooding. Work was stopped for a month 
and a half while an auxiliary shaft was sunk from the surface 
three thousand feet south of the north portal. Gray then began 
driving back from the bottom of the shaft, to approach the caved 
section from both ends. Several times Gray and his men struck 
whole pockets of water and were forced to flee for their lives 
through the tunnel. But by timbering the sides as fast as they were 
formed, and finally by driving overlapping steel rails in advance 
of the heading to hold back cave-ins, the obstacle was conquered. 
Early in April 1909, Gray connected with the auxiliary shaft. 
Despite continued floods of water, in which his tunnelers some- 
times waded to the hips, they were soon driving ahead faster than 
the rival crews beyond the crest. When the two headings finally 
met on February 28, 1911, the south-portal men had covered the 
longest distance, but monumental handicaps had given John Gray 
a lasting reputation as the best tunnel man on the aqueduct. 

Along the Sierra foothills north of Mojave, full-scale operations 
could not be launched until a standard-gauge railway had been 
built to haul an estimated 320,000 tons of materials. Contracting 
for delivery of this freight, the Southern Pacific Railroad began 
grading the road northward from Mojave early in May 1 908. The 
tracks connected with the narrow-gauge near Lone Pine by Octo- 
ber 1910, bringing Owens Valley its long-sought outlet to the 

Construction on the ditch itself was opened as fast as the tracks 
advanced, starting with the formidable Jawbone Division just 
north of Mojave. At sight of this rugged series of jutting crags 
and gaping canyons, the original board of inspecting engineers 
had shown some alarm. "That is very rough and difficult country 
for canal digging," one of them told Mulholland as the group 
surveyed the badlands from a nearby ridge. 

"It is rough on top," agreed the quick-witted Mulholland, "but 
we are not going to dig on top." The conduit would be bur- 
rowed underground, he assured them, clinching the argument 
with the sober observation, "When you buy a piece of pork you 
don't have to eat the bristles." 

Headquarters for the Jawbone was Cinco, a railroad supply 
station fairly roaring with construction activity. In and out of 
spur tracks freight cars were shunted day and night. It was a 
canvas town of innumerable tents barracks, mess halls, stores, 
blacksmith shops whose flimsy sides flapped wildly in the fre- 
quent desert winds. From this bustling center long lines of mule 
teams hauled machinery and supplies to outlying construction 
camps along the conduit. 

Over precipitous mountain roads the teams were joined by 
some of the earliest traction engines in existence. In the first few 
months of operation the clanking "Caterpillars" showed a definite 
saving in cost over the jerk-line mule teams; but when the desert 
elements took their toll in repeated breakdowns and repairs Mul- 
holland was forced to abandon them and fall back on slower but 
more reliable mule power. 

Progress on the Jawbone was in full swing by the fall of 1908. 
A thousand men were driving more than eleven miles of tunnels 
while the Sierra foothills shook to the rumble of blasting powder. 
The brawny crew on the two-mile Red Rock Tunnel, longest in 
the division, set the world's record for soft-rock tunneling with 
the feverish advance of 1061 feet in a single month. 

Superintending the division was A. G. Hansen, who had 
come to the aqueduct from flood control work on the lower 
Colorado. A tall and wiry Scandinavian, Hansen believed in hard 
work and made himself an example for his crewmen. But though 
Mulholland respected him as an engineer of the first rank, he 
could not refrain from taking advantage of Hansen's total lack of 
humor. On one of his inspection trips he was questioning the 
superintendent on the tunneling progress, and learned that a 
miner had been cut off by a landslide in one of the excavations. 

"We have been talking to him," explained Hansen, "through a 
two-inch pipe driven through the muck." 

Mulholland considered that from the miner's point of view 
this effort was hardly enough. 

"How long has he been in there?" he asked. 

"Three days." 

"Then he must be nearly starved to death." 

"No," replied Hansen, "we have been rolling hard-boiled eggs 
to him through the pipe." 

The Chief assessed the man's predicament in the light of this 
added service. 

"Well," he asked abruptly, "have you been charging him 

It was Hansen's turn to consider the situation. "No," he an- 
swered. "Do you think I ought to?" 

But if Hansen took the suggestion seriously his problem was 
removed next day when a rescue party extricated the stranded 

As the railroad progressed northward new divisions were 
sparked with activity. Where the tracks swung sharply away from 
the aqueduct around the El Paso Mountains, a spur line was built 
eight miles up Red Rock Canyon and operated by the aqueduct 
for almost two years. Farther north on the rugged Grapevine and 
Little Lake divisions, activity was opening in 1 909 as fast as men 
and equipment could be spared from completed sections of the 
Jawbone. Here the route of supply for most of the tunnel work 
was usually straight up the mountainsides. Men and materials 
were carried up by surface trams or aerial cables, either of which 
offered a breath-taking ride to the uninitiated visitor. 

Along the entire route, over mountains and desert from San 
Fernando Reservoir to Owens Valley, swarms of men and ma- 
chines continued to carve the great trough. Either Mulholland or 
Lippincott was always in the field observing progress, making de- 
cisions on changes in plans, and impressing shovel operators and 
tunnel foremen with comments on their performance records. 
Through winter storms and summer heat the work went on in 
round-the-clock, eight-hour shifts for the tunnel crews, and two 
ten-hour shifts for the "outside" workers. 

It was said that the aqueduct was built by "hobo" labor, and 
statistics showed that the average man did not stay on the job 
more than two weeks at a time. Most of them drew their pay at 
the end of a ten-day bonus period and hiked to the next head- 
quarters down the line, stopping at the nearest "rag camp" the 
term for the tent saloons that sprang up as close to the conduit as 
law would permit. One tunnel foreman recalls that he regu- 
larly had "one crew drunk, one crew sobering up, and one crew 

The "boom town" of the aqueduct, and the Mecca of every 


"tunnel stiff" able to reach it in one or two days' hike, was the 
rail center of Mojave, roughly halfway between Los Angeles and 
Owens Valley. It was a town with a single dirt street separating 
the rail yards from a solid row of false fronts and wooden awn- 
ings that housed saloons, gambling joints, and dance halls. On 
paydays Mojave fairly roared around the clock, while a dozen 
clanking pianos and wheezing phonographs mingled with the 
raucous laughter of the revelers. Next day most of them would 
awaken in a Mojave alley to find their pockets empty and ahead 
of them a long walk back to their headquarters on "the big ditch." 

By contrast the workingmen's lives in these white-tented aque- 
duct camps were notably austere and peaceful. At mealtimes, an- 
nounced by the ringing of the cook's triangle, they left their tools 
on the mountainsides and converged on the barracks in the 
canyon below. Inside the mess hall there was little time spent in 
dinner conversation; with scarcely a word the hungry horde 
passed the serving pans down the length of the long tables and 
tackled the meal almost as another chore in the day's routine. 

Desert heat and lack of refrigeration made the food increasingly 
bad in proportion to the distance from Los Angeles. Meat spoiled, 
bread became infested with weevils, and most of the fare was 
restricted to simple imperishables. Many times the boisterous 
workmen were infuriated to riot by the "grub" placed before 
them. Tables were kicked over and the food thrown on the floor 
and walls. Sometimes the mess tents were torn down and the 
cooks chased out of camp. More than once the mess contractor 
was warned by aqueduct officials that the business might be 
taken from him, but Mulholland believed that the city itself 
could scarcely do better in feeding several thousand men in desert 
heat without refrigeration. 

Other conditions along the conduit were better calculated to 
help morale. Pay and promotions were based solely on a man's 
ability to do his job, and there was a certain fellowship developed 
among men engaged in a common and inspiring undertaking. 
In the evenings at every camp the office porch was a social gather- 
ing place, where groups of men would sit on the rails and steps 
to talk of news up and down the big ditch, or of what they 
planned to do "when the damned thing is finished." Inside the 
office a late-burning light would reveal the division chief at work 

over maps and blueprints that were being carried out in life-size 
scale up on the mountainside. 

By the spring of 1910 the work was being pushed forward be- 
yond Mulholland's own expectations. The red tape and indiffer- 
ence which could have plagued such a public undertaking was 
largely eliminated by the pressure of his driving energy. Across 
the country his aqueduct was respected for its remarkable prog- 
ress with a minimum of expense and accidents. By persuading the 
city's New York bond buyers to purchase aqueduct securities at a 
faster rate than guaranteed in their contract, Los Angeles offi- 
cials were taking advantage of enlarged funds to make all possible 
speed on the ditch. With almost two thirds of the work finished, 
Lippincott returned from a trip afield to report progress at a 
record pace and the aqueduct organization "in a high state of 

In mid-May 1910, however, a flurry in the money market 
caused the New York bonding firm to curtail investments. It not 
only quit buying bonds ahead of schedule but refused to take any 
at all until the schedule had caught up with the number of 
bonds already bought. As this would be a matter of months, it 
meant a financial calamity for Mulholland and the aqueduct. 

At the current high rate of advance, little more than a month's 
supply of funds was on hand when the crisis came. Frantic tele- 
grams were sent immediately to New York without avail. With 
the aqueduct pay roll at a record 3900 men, Mulholland ordered 
a drastic cut on May 20. 

Within a few days the force was reduced to 1 1 oo men. Whole 
divisions were closed down completely, with only the Elizabeth 
Tunnel kept under full force. North of Mojave eighty per cent of 
the workers were laid off. Only enough men were retained to 
prevent the work from falling into disrepair. The town of 
Mojave, ordinarily booming with the trade of 3000 nearby work- 
ers, became a dead camp overnight. 

Mulholland, W. B. Mathews, and a Chamber of Commerce 
official hurriedly boarded an eastbound train to plead with New 
York's bond buyers for relief. But if the aqueduct was in dire straits, 
the New York bankers were more concerned with the shaky money 
market. His efforts fruitless, Mulholland returned to Los Angeles 


on May 26 and outlined a plan for slow-time activity until the 
crisis passed. 

"The work will be suspended," he told the press, "on those 
portions where it is farthest advanced and the efforts continued 
where it has lagged." To the city authorities he soon reported the 
most damaging result of the debacle the scattering of the high- 
geared, finely knit organization that had been pressing the ditch 
forward at the rate of seven miles a month. 

But on the most northerly Owens Valley Division, where some 
fifty men were dredging an open canal, Superintendent Harvey A. 
Van Norman found encouragement from his crewmen. Calling 
them together when word reached him of the financial crisis, the 
husky young engineer announced he would have to shut down 
operations and dismiss them all for lack of funds. The men 
looked at one another, exchanged a few remarks, and then asked 
their chief: 

"You can keep the cookhouse going, can't you?" 

Van Norman assured them that he could guarantee grub for a 
month or more. To his immense satisfaction the entire crew de- 
cided it could stay on without pay until Mulholland got money 
matters in order once again. Throughout the aqueduct curtail- 
ment, dirt continued to fly in the Owens Valley Division. 

Meanwhile the effects of the slowdown were promptly felt in 
another quarter, starting a round of trouble for Mulholland's 
ditch. On July 19 the mess contractor demanded a raise in meal 
allowances to compensate for the smaller number of paying 
boarders. Aqueduct officials accordingly raised the board five 
cents per meal on condition that he improve the mess. 

But when the new rate went into effect in November 1910 it 
was branded an injustice by union men who were then trying 
to organize the aqueduct workers. Already the Western Fed- 
eration of Miners, linked at that time with the radical Indus- 
trial Workers of the World, had made considerable headway with 
the men in the remaining tunnels of the Little Lake, Grapevine, 
and Elizabeth divisions. The new board schedule had been in 
effect only two weeks when the union called a strike and more 
than seven hundred men walked off the work. Elizabeth Tunnel 
was practically closed down, while most of the tunnel and shovel 
work farther north was carried on with skeleton crews. 


If Mulholland was now twice confounded by the appearance 
of labor strife, he gave no outward sign. A union deputation met 
with aqueduct officials on November 15 and demanded either a 
return to the old board rate or a corresponding wage increase, as 
well as "the unqualified right to board where we please. . . ." 
With language that may have been too strong under the circum- 
stances, the aqueduct authorities told the miners' committee that 
the demands could not be granted. In rapid order the metal- 
workers and steam-shovel operators on the ditch made their de- 
mands for higher wages and shorter hours. In each case they were 

As the strike dragged on week after week it became apparent 
that the W.F.M. had chosen the wrong time to tie up the aque- 
duct. The continued weakness in finances made the shutdown of 
the expensive tunnel work a timely occurrence, and Mulholland 
was in no hurry to renew activity. By the end of January 1911 
the unions sent a final communique to the mayor and City Coun- 
cil, warning that "as there seems no possible way to settle this 
strike with the city officials in order to secure justice the aqueduct 
employees will have to try by all means in their power to make 
the taxpayers aware of the facts in the present situation." 

Political action at the polls by Los Angeles labor elements was 
evidently the meaning of the threat. But Mulholland continued 
to operate without heeding the union organizers. When the New 
York banking house resumed buying aqueduct bonds in February 
1911 and the long money shortage was over, he began to recruit 
a full complement of aqueduct workers. 

Though a labor shortage continued for several weeks, Mulhol- 
land began advancing transportation money to prospective crew- 
men bound for points along the ditch, and extended the bonus 
system to cement and siphon crews where necessary. By May 1911 
the entire aqueduct, from the San Fernando dams to the Owens 
River intake, was under full steam once more. The superior pay 
opportunities on Mulholland's ditch gave the miners little stom- 
ach for a continued strike. 

Rebuffed in their wage demands, the labor chiefs turned to 
fulfill their threat of taking the issue to the Los Angeles voters. 
In the fall elections of 191 1 the unions, through the rising Social- 
ist party, waged a furious campaign to capture the city adminis- 


tration. For mayor they supported Job Harriman, the Los Angeles 
lawyer who had already fought the aqueduct bonds. Paradoxi- 
cally, the Socialist leader now renewed his attack on the biggest 
publicly owned project in Southern California. Every conceivable 
charge was made against Mulholland's aqueduct that construc- 
tion was faulty, that working conditions were intolerable, and 
that it had been launched to serve a few landowners in San 
Fernando Valley. 

Harriman emerged from the primary leading the field, and 
took his party into the final campaign with every hope of cap- 
turing the Los Angeles city government. But among the current 
political factors was the trial in Los Angeles of two labor leaders, 
the McNamara brothers, charged with the dynamiting of the 
Times Building the year before; Harriman, engaged as part of 
their legal counsel, had succeeded in whipping up considerable 
public sympathy. On December I, four days before the election, 
the McNamaras confessed to the Times dynamiting, shocked the 
entire country, and blew the Socialist campaign into defeat. 

Harriman's charges against the aqueduct, repeated for two 
months to an interested public, could not be overlooked by Wil- 
liam Mulholland. Early in December he asked the City Council 
for a public investigation of aqueduct affairs. The Socialists then 
demanded a majority on the three-man investigating committee. 
When the City Council appointed only one known "anti-conduit" 
man they launched and won an initiative movement to pack the 
group with two more Socialists. 

The "People's Investigating Board" began its probe in the 
spring of 1912, sending representatives along the aqueduct in 
search of evidence. For several weeks the board grilled Mulhol- 
land, Mathews, and other aqueduct officials on every subject, 
from the inception of the project to actual construction. 

By July the two non-Socialist members of the board resigned in 
protest against what they termed star chamber methods, giving a 
minority report which favored the aqueduct on every count. In 
August the other three members made their report, with heavier 
criticism than the testimony seemed to justify. Mulholland's ditch 
received a left-handed exoneration, however, in a remarkable 
statement that "no evidence of graft has been developed," but 
that if the board had been given more time "a knowledge of 


human nature indicates that men would have been found who 
had succumbed to temptation." 

The aqueduct's long trial was over. Having steered his under- 
taking through hard times and strikes, political attacks and in- 
quisitions, Mulholland realized that a great engineer's job is only 
partly technical. 

Before him there remained the gigantic task of finishing the 
conduit, and this his crewmen were still accomplishing in spite of 
opposition. By the middle of 1912 the work was, in point of 
distance, ninety per cent completed, and Mulholland was able 
to report that "the end of our task seems fairly in sight." Most 
of the tunnels had been driven and lined with concrete, while 
a half dozen earth-fill dams, from Haiwee to San Fernando, were 
under final construction. 

Mulholland, almost exhausted from the enormous five-year 
work, fortified himself with the conviction that, as he had once 
said, "we are giving the city a magnificent heritage. If it were not 
for looking ahead to the time of reward, a reward of approbation 
that will surely come to us, five or six years from now, I could 
not go on with the work, for I am worn out." 

The final task was the installation of inverted siphons the great 
airtight pipes by which the water would be made to drop into 
and out of canyons below the aqueduct grade level. Some of the 
first of these were laid in the Saugus Division, the mountainous 
section just north of San Fernando Valley, where two of the 
siphons were the largest known concrete pipes in the United 
States. Most of them, however, were made of thick steel sections, 
rolled and punched at Eastern mills and shipped by rail to be 
riveted in the field. Varying from eight to ten feet in diameter, 
they were laid on concrete piers in the canyon bottoms and in- 
stalled on the hillsides by means of electric tramways. Largest 
pipe in the whole aqueduct was the four-mile steel and concrete 
siphon at the west end of Antelope Valley, to which long mule 
teams hauled steel thirty-five miles from the rail town of Mojave. 
The most harrowing siphon work was performed in the rugged 
Jawbone Division under Superintendent Harvey A. Van Norman, 
previously chief of Owens Valley dredging operations. Its largest 
siphon was the 7ooo-foot monster in Jawbone Canyon, where a 


drop of 850 feet from the grade of the conduit necessitated steel 
casing over an inch thick in the bottom section. While neither the 
stoutest nor the longest siphon on the aqueduct, the Jawbone was 
described, because of its thickness of steel and extreme pressure 
head, as "the most noteworthy pipe in the United States." 

In January 1912 the work was started in the canyon bottom, 
where the extra thickness of the steel made it necessary for most 
of the riveting to be done at the Eastern mill. Several pipes thirty- 
six feet long, weighing twenty-six tons apiece, were shipped by 
rail to Cinco station, and were pulled the last four miles to the 
siphon by two specially rigged mule teams. Each outfit had a 
pair of great flat-decked wagons supported by steel wheels with 
tires two feet wide. They were drawn by no less than fifty-two 
mules, using three parallel jerk lines of sixteen mules each, with 
a lead pair at the head and two wheelers on the tongue. Such a 
job of mule skinning required highly skilled work from the most 
experienced drivers on the desert. 

First skinner to take the fifty-two mules up Jawbone Canyon 
was a burly fellow named Wilson. At the end of his initial round 
trip he felt so satisfied with himself that he promptly got into a 
scrap with the corral wrangler at Cinco and beat him over the 
head with a piece of steel. Division Superintendent Van Norman 
soon arrived and found that Wilson had been the aggressor. He 
fired the fifty-two-mule driver on the spot. 

"Where you going to get another skinner?" demanded Wilson. 

Van Norman told him he was driving into Mojave to recruit 

"He better come out here shootin'!" boasted the disgruntled 
teamster. "This is my job." 

The engineer knew Wilson was armed, and already felt re- 
morseful over the fate of the new driver he would have to hire. 
Next morning in Mojave he was directed to the hotel room of 
"Whistling Dick," a leather-skinned teamster, seventy-four years 
old, who had hauled borax from Death Valley in earlier days. 

"Dick," he asked, "how many mules can you drive?" 

The old skinner, full of professional pride, threw his head back 
in wide-eyed disgust. 

"Just as far as I can see 'em," he answered solemnly. 

Van Norman told him he wanted a fifty-two-mule teamster, 

but warned that Wilson had threatened any man who came to 
take his place. Apparently unimpressed, Whistling Dick gathered 
his few belongings and checked out of the hotel. 

Just as the two men stepped into the street Wilson himself 
reeled out of the adjacent saloon and loudly demanded where 
Dick was going. The grizzled teamster reared back once more 
and eyed Wilson with contempt. 

"None of your damned business," he roared, then added: 
"And furthermore, I hear you've been braggin' about defendin' 
that job up on the Jawbone. If you come up there you better 
come heeled, 'cause I got mine right here." And he patted a sig- 
nificant bulge in his shirt. 

Wilson, king of the mule skinners, decided he had no use for 
that hauling job in Jawbone Canyon. Van Norman, who had 
been ready to duck for his life, drove peacefully out of town with 
Whistling Dick, satisfied that he had found the right man. 

For several months the gray-bearded mule skinner, perched on 
the back of his near wheeler, was a familiar sight from Cinco to the 
Jawbone siphon. While his mules tugged through the heavy sands 
of the canyon bottom the mountainsides echoed to Dick's com- 
manding whistles and the crack of his blacksnake. 

Transportation of the giant siphon was nearly finished when 
tragedy one day overtook the plodding mule teams. Unexplain- 
ably Whistling Dick fell from his saddle without stopping the 
mules; the "swamper" on the rear wagon first saw his body lying 
crushed in the track of the massive wagon wheels. At seventy- 
four, after a lifetime of mule skinning, Dick had at last fallen 
victim to his hard-bitten profession. 

By March 1913 the great pipe of the Jawbone siphon had inched 
its way up both sides of the canyon to its points of entry into the 
adjacent tunnels; the last big project on the Los Angeles Aque- 
duct was finished. 

As early as February 13 a small but jubilant party including 
Mulholland, Lippincott, and Van Norman arrived at the newly 
completed intake for the momentous task of turning the Owens 
River into the big ditch. Mrs. Van Norman christened the canal 
head gate with a bottle of champagne, and while one of the 
group took motion pictures of the historic event Mulholland and 


his friends turned the wheels that opened the four controlling 
gates. With a great roaring surge, 200 second-feet of sparkling 
water poured out of the Owens River bed and into the aqueduct 

After Haiwee Reservoir had filled, Mulholland, Van Norman, 
and other water men released its gates early in May and followed 
the head of the stream for fifty hours across the Mojave Desert 
to the reservoir at the upper end of Elizabeth Tunnel, stopping 
from time to time to observe the flow through manholes in the 
conduit. Elated with the success of their undertaking, the engi- 
neers dispersed to await the filling of this second storage place. 

They did not know that ten miles south of Little Lake the Sand 
Canyon siphon had sprung a huge crack and was spilling water 
down the north side of the ravine. Built of two underground 
tunnels down each mountainside, and connected by a steel pipe 
across the canyon, this siphon was the only one of its kind on the 

The necessary steel was rushed up from Los Angeles and re- 
pairs were begun within forty-eight hours. On May 16 enough 
water was turned back into the pipe to reveal a small leak on the 
south slope. Determined to test the siphon to its full capacity, 
even if it meant destruction, the aqueduct men gradually in- 
creased the flow. 

As the water burst out of the cracks the whole south mountain- 
side began to slip. When the flow reached 42 second-feet, the 
entire covering of the tunnel was lifted upward by the pressure. 
Water fountained into the air, and the canyon wall burst loose 
and crashed into the ravine. One side of a corrugated workshop 
was sheared away by the avalanche; the south end of the steel 
pipe was bombarded with huge boulders and completely en- 
tombed with debris. Some tiny seams in the otherwise solid granite 
of the canyon sides had permitted the fatal leaks that brought 
the destruction of the siphon. Harvey Van Norman, having re- 
turned to Mojave from his inspection trip with Mulholland, now 
received an emergency phone call from Los Angeles. 

"Sand Canyon siphon has failed," said the Chief. 

Hurrying northward to the wrecked section, the two engineers 
surveyed the scene. Van Norman, riding a work sled lowered by 
rope, went into the pipe and inspected its shattered sides. Above 

his head as he descended, great chunks of concrete hung from 
the reinforcing rods, threatening him as long as he remained in 
the hole. Returning to the surface, Van Norman made his report 
to Mulholland. 

"There's nothing to do with this but put a steel siphon on the 

"Go ahead," returned the Chief. In a few days, work on the 
new pipe began alongside the old, and by early September water 
was flowing southward without interruption. Except for a short 
section of power piping in San Francisquito Canyon, the aque- 
duct was finished at last. Mulholland had built his big ditch in 
almost exactly the five years and $23,000,000 he had estimated 
a remarkable distinction among municipal enterprises. 

It had already been announced that the long-heralded ceremony 
for the aqueduct completion, scheduled for July before the Sand 
Canyon break, would be held on November 5, 1913. While the 
reservoirs on either side of Elizabeth Tunnel were allowed to fill, 
the people of Los Angeles made ready to celebrate the event with 
typical Southern California enthusiasm. An impressive aqueduct 
display was built at Exposition Park, formal dedication ceremo- 
nies were prepared at the man-made cascade north of the San 
Fernando reservoirs, and a final grand parade was planned for 
downtown Los Angeles. 

No less exuberantly did Los Angeles and all of California 
turn to William Mulholland in the hour of his greatest triumph. 
The aqueduct was recognized across the country as the finest in 
America and second only to the Panama Canal as an engineering 
feat. The Chief was showered with honors, introduced every- 
where as "the Goethals of the West" or "California's Greatest 
Man." Engineering societies gave him high awards and congratu- 
lations, while the University of California conferred on him an 
honorary doctor's degree. 

Early in 1913, as a new mayoralty campaign loomed in Los 
Angeles, publisher E. T. Earl of the Express began campaigning 
for Mulholland as the city's next mayor. General Otis of the 
Times then wrote to Mulholland that for once Earl had made a 
suggestion with which he could agree. A committee of determined 
Angelenos waited on the water chief at his office and one by one 


recited to him the superlative qualifications which made him 
exactly suited for the city's highest office. Mulholland was clearly 
moved by their words. But when they had finished he solemnly 
put an end to the entire affair with a startling but typical reply : 

"Gentlemen, I would rather give birth to a porcupine back- 
wards than be mayor of Los Angeles." 

Yet in his hour of success Mulholland was burdened with sor- 
row over the protracted illness of his wife, Lillian. Her confine- 
ment in a Los Angeles hospital during the last few months of 
aqueduct construction had made his days doubly wearisome. 
When he awoke each morning his first move was to call the hos- 
pital for word of her status; as soon as he reached Los Angeles 
after every trip afield his first steps led to her bedside. As the 
time for the aqueduct ceremony drew near Mrs. Mulholland's 
condition turned suddenly worse, and her recovery was doubtful. 
When Mulholland left Los Angeles for the San Fernando cascade 
on November 5, he asked that any change in his wife's condition 
be reported to him at the dedication ceremony. 

But though his wife's health weighed heavily on him, Mulhol- 
land's thoughts undoubtedly turned to the significance of the 
new aqueduct as his staff automobile carried him northward on 
that historic day. The waters of Owens River, he knew, had 
not come too soon. Though the city's own water system from the 
Los Angeles River had been successfully stretched to cover its 
increased customers, some half-dozen private water companies in 
the suburbs had been unable to meet demand during the hot days 
of the previous summer. There were instances where citizens had 
stayed up till early morning with their faucets wide open to catch 
enough drippings in pails for domestic needs the next day. 

The nightmare of water famine would now be over; Mulhol- 
land himself would turn the waters of Owens River into the 
San Fernando Reservoir. From there water mains were almost 
completed to carry the vast new source to city water taps, with 
enough left over to irrigate a valley and provide for a population 
growth of two million. 

At the San Fernando cascade Mulholland found a crowd of 
some forty thousand exuberant citizens, who had ridden from 
every point in the Southland by carriage, auto, and train. Climb- 
ing to the platform amid a welcoming ovation, he wearily took 


his seat among the notables of Los Angeles. Immediately the 
ceremony began. The first speaker, a California congressman, 
opened with a declaration that captured the entire significance of 
the event. 

"We are gathered here today to celebrate the coming of a king 
for water in Southern California is king in fact if not in name." 

At length the chairman introduced "the Honorable William 
Mulholland the man who built the aqueduct." As though they 
had been holding themselves in readiness for this moment, the 
people rose to their feet, clapping and cheering, throwing hand- 
kerchiefs and hats in the air. Mulholland trudged forward from 
his seat, bent and tired, without notes or any idea of what he 
would say. But after gazing for a moment at the vast assembly, 
he opened with generous praise for all the men who had built the 
aqueduct, from his top advisers to the humblest laborers. 

"This rude platform," he concluded, "is an altar, and on it we 
are here consecrating this water supply and dedicating this aque- 
duct to you and your children and your children's children for 
all time!" 

He shuffled back to his seat in the midst of another ovation. A 
silver loving cup was presented to him, and another to Lippin- 
cott, who made a short speech of his own. Mulholland then 
stepped to a flagpole on the grandstand and unfurled the Stars 
and Stripes an act that was the prearranged signal for the engi- 
neers at the top of the cascade to turn the great wheels and release 
the water. Instantly the crowd sent up its cheers once more, Army 
cannons boomed, a brass band played furiously. 

Mulholland scarcely heard the pandemonium. His eyes were 
fixed on the gates above, half in wonderment, as though he 
feared the precious water might not appear. With painful slow- 
ness the metal gates rose. A trickle of water emerged and started 
downward. It grew to a stream, then to a raging torrent, churn- 
ing and sparkling down the cascade. Just above the grandstand it 
sprayed over a rise in the incline and roared past toward San 
Fernando Reservoir. 

The Chief took his seat with a sigh that was almost a sob. For 
a moment he closed his eyes. The tired spirit gave way to a smile. 
He threw back his head and laughed aloud. 

"Well, it's finished!" 


Without waiting for the scheduled presentation speeches, by 
which Mulholland was to turn the aqueduct over to the city, the 
multitude stampeded to the side of the cascade to watch the 
seething torrent. Mulholland and Mayor H. H. Rose, who was to 
receive the water for the city, were left virtually without an audi- 
ence. With the roar of the water and his own emotion all but 
stifling his voice, Mulholland turned to the mayor and made the 
five-word speech that has become famous: 

"There it is. Take it." 

A few moments later word came to him that his wife had 
passed her crisis in the hospital and was now out of danger. The 
Chief went forward joyfully to join the crowd in taking a drink 
of Owens River water, relieved at last of two burdens that had 
made this day the climax of his life. 

4: The Seeds of Conflict 

Notably absent from the 1913 dedication ceremonies at San Fer- 
nando was the man who conceived the Los Angeles Aqueduct 
Fred Eaton. But Mulholland had not failed to mention his old 
friend as the "father" of the project in his preliminary speech. 

"He planned it," said the Chief. "We simply put together the 
bricks and mortar." 

Yet even at that time an irreparable breach had begun to sepa- 
rate the two stalwarts who had laid the city's new water founda- 
tions. Fred Eaton was convinced that his Long Valley ranch 
would eventually be needed as a storage reservoir by the sprouting 
metropolis, and was determined that he would not be so gener- 
ous in its disposition as he had already been in allowing the aque- 
duct to be a non-profit municipal enterprise. 

The city already held an easement to flood the valley with a 
loo-foot dam. Such a reservoir would contain some 68,000 acre- 
feet of water only a fraction of Long Valley's capacity as a year- 
to-year regulator of supply. A i4O-foot dam, according to Mulhol- 
land's Water Department report in 1907, would impound 260,000 
acre-feet enough to tide the city over dry years with "the full 
amount of 400 second-feet for which the aqueduct has been de- 

signed." But until Los Angeles had grown enough to need that 
amount Mulholland believed it was unnecessary to build the Long 
Valley dam. 

During construction of the aqueduct Fred Eaton talked with 
Mulholland and offered to sell the city the rest of the 1 2,000 acres 
in the Long Valley site. The price he asked was indefinite and 
based on the land's value to the city as a reservoir; but it was not 
less than a million dollars. Mulholland, taken aback by Eaton's 
figures, declined to buy. 

On several other occasions Eaton made the same overtures, 
with growing resentment at Mulholland's repeated refusal to deal. 
For his part, the Chief was disappointed at Eaton's price demand, 
and believed he was trying to take advantage of his friendship for 
personal gain. At length the rift became an open break, with the 
two old friends refusing to meet each other. 

"I'll buy Long Valley three years after Eaton is dead," Mulhol- 
land is credited with saying. It is a fact, however, that his bitter- 
ness on the subject was generally kept to himself. Eaton in turn 
refused to attend the dedication of the aqueduct in November 
1913, with the forlorn excuse that because of autumn rains the 
first water to come down the cascade would not be true Owens 
River water. 

The impasse caused the city to turn away from any idea of 
constructing more than a loo-foot dam while Eaton ruled Long 
Valley. Such a decision would eliminate a guarantee of ample 
water for irrigators in upper Owens Valley, and its farmers sought 
a water understanding with Los Angeles. With its aqueduct intake 
lying below the head gates of most of the irrigating ditches along 
Owens River, Los Angeles itself stood in need of an agree- 
ment with valley water users. 

On April 5, 1913, a Los Angeles committee, including Mulhol- 
land and W. B. Mathews, met at Bishop with the heads of the 
valley ditch companies. A list of ten requests was presented by the 
farmers, and the city men promptly conceded all but one the 
abandonment of power development in the Owens River gorge. 
In general the agreement guaranteed the rights of valley users in 
storing water and irrigating land without interference, and com- 
mitted the city to recognize the right of each ditch to a certain 
flow from Owens River. 


The conference adjourned with what was hailed as a perma- 
nent settlement on Owens Valley water. Mulholland and Mathews 
left Bishop in an atmosphere of good will and optimism. If this 
agreement could have been fulfilled by both sides it almost cer- 
tainly could have forestalled the worst aspects of the Owens 
River controversy. 

According to the understanding, the valley people brought a 
friendly suit against Los Angeles on July 2, to make the agree- 
ment a matter of legality. But on the same day another suit was 
filed in Los Angeles to prevent the city from making an agree- 
ment on its water rights with the people of Inyo County. The 
plaintiff was one of the Socialist members of the "People's 
Board" which had investigated the aqueduct the year before. His 
backers are said to have been one of the Los Angeles electric com- 
panies, which was evidently moved to action by the city's insist- 
ence on municipal power development in the Owens River 
gorge. The injunction suit was thrown out of court the following 
spring, but it had served a tragic purpose in spiking the only real 
agreement ever made between Los Angeles and the Owens Valley 

By the end of 1914 the city officials had become wary of guar- 
anteeing a certain flow to valley ditches without first determining 
the amount of water that would ordinarily be left for the aque- 
duct. There followed a series of delays, for which both city and 
valley people were responsible. Los Angeles men at length secured 
permission to gauge the flow in the irrigation ditches and submit- 
ted their figures in 1919. They were not acceptable to valley rep- 
resentatives, who thereupon took two more years to make their 
own measurements. When the two sides opened negotiations early 
in 1921, it was apparent that a loo-foot dam could not guarantee 
enough water for all in time of drought. In one meeting after 
another the ranchers insisted that only a dam at least 140 feet 
high could fulfill their needs. 

But the growing rupture between valley and city forces did not 
prevent Water Department officials from opening construction on 
the loo-foot dam, which the astounding growth of Los Angeles 
was fast making necessary. Within a year diversion tunnels and 
other preliminaries had been made for a structure with a base 

large enough to support a later height of 150 feet, if and when a 
settlement could be made with Eaton. 

Valley irrigators protested that this was no guarantee, and in 
May 1922 they filed suit to prevent Los Angeles from building its 
loo-foot dam. They would not allow any interference with the 
river's flow as long as their irrigation needs were not protected. 
Later Fred Eaton filed a similar suit on the grounds that no dam 
should be constructed which could ever create a higher reservoir 
than the loo-foot easement he had given the city. 

If Eaton's purpose was to force Los Angeles to buy Long Valley, 
he was disappointed. The city stopped work on the dam after 
spending about $200,000. Neither suit was brought to trial; ap- 
parently both sides preferred to avoid a legal battle that might 
jeopardize their own water claims. Owens River was left un- 
controlled, and the storage of ample water for all was tragically 

By the summer of 1921 it was plain that another drought 
period had struck California, and the opponents found them- 
selves less concerned with intangible legalities than with an 
open struggle for the water itself. The seriousness of the shortage 
became apparent when a party of men invaded Long Valley in 
July of that year, tearing out some of Fred Eaton's irrigation 
dams on the mountain streams to allow the water to reach 
Owens River. Part of the group were city men and part valley 
irrigators, who were supposed to have made this a rather general 
practice in times of drought. 

As late as the spring of 1924, in spite of fiery protests from 
Fred Eaton, crews of men were cutting his irrigation ditches. 
Harold Eaton, then manager of his father's cattle business, was 
riding along Convict Creek one day and came upon a group of 
them at work. 

"What the hell you doin' here?" he demanded. 

"We're going to turn the water back into the river," answered 
the leader, a Los Angeles representative. 

"What'll you do," asked Eaton, "if I go get my shotgun?" 

The other replied that he would have to wait and see. Tempers 
cooled in the conversation that followed and a clash was averted. 
But in the next few days the men continued to cut the Long 
Valley ditches. Fred Eaton then placed armed guards along his 


creeks and restricted the movements of every traveler through his 

"They say I am no longer a friend of the city," he told an 
inquirer. "I deny that. But if they try to take something of mine 
away from me I'll fight." 

To Los Angeles, however, the matter of Eaton's ditches was 
now only a small part of a larger problem. By the early 1 9205 the 
drought cycle, together with the agricultural boom in San Fer- 
nando Valley, had placed Los Angeles under threat of another 
water famine. 

Before the aqueduct's completion the city had accepted Mul- 
holland's plan to use excess water only in adjacent farm sections 
likely to be absorbed in the spreading urban districts. In this way 
the growing city would never have to deprive the farmers of 
water, for their lands would gradually be transformed into resi- 
dential areas as Los Angeles expanded. For such a purpose the 
San Fernando Valley was by nature the most practical, since over 
a third of its irrigation water found its way by seepage into the 
Los Angeles River to be used again by the city. 

In May 1915 valley residents voted to join Los Angeles, start- 
ing the process of community annexations for water purposes 
which have given the city the biggest area of any metropolis in 
the world. Three weeks later the first Owens River water was sold 
for irrigation. San Fernando Valley, previously a sandy desert 
that had known only dry wheat farming, began to blossom. 
Orchards of walnuts and oranges, fields of vegetables and melons 
sprang up almost as fast as Mulholland's crews laid the city's 
water pipes. In the southern half of the valley, subdivided in 
1911 by a group including General Otis and Harry Chandler of 
the Times, the new towns of Van Nuys and Lankershim (now 
North Hollywood) were booming with trade. From a total of 
3000 crop acres in 1914, the valley's irrigated land spread to an 
astounding 75,000 acres three years later. Prices leaped from a 
few dollars per acre to an average of $300 after the coming of 
Owens River water giving rise to a classic parody on a Julia 
Carney poem: 

Little drops of water on little grains of sand, 
Make a hell of a difference in the price of land. 


When the first drought cycle was felt in 1921, San Fernando 
Valley was using an average of 104 second-feet for irrigation and 
the city's domestic consumers were taking 1 25 second-feet, about 
half of which was supplied by the Los Angeles River. During 
summer irrigation the valley used as high as 277 second-feet an 
amount dangerously near Owens River's mean flow of less than 
300 second-feet during the drought. 

By the spring of 1923, Haiwee Reservoir was lowered to an 
alarming level. Mulholland was forced to make several arbitrary 
shutoffs of irrigation water in San Fernando Valley. Farms were 
soon suffering from water shortages that threatened the entire 
alfalfa crop. The great aqueduct that had been built for fifty 
years of growth was already proving inadequate for Los Angeles, 
whose 576,000 census in 1920 had made it the largest metropolis 
in the West. 

Mulholland's first recourse was to make heavy improvements 
in Owens Valley's water yield. For several years the city had been 
pumping water from its rich underground storage. But the water 
table was already sinking to remote depths, causing more than 
one farmer in the Independence area to bring injunction suits 
against municipal pumping. The disputes were almost invariably 
settled by the city's purchase of the plaintiff's property, but Mul- 
holland knew this exigency could never solve the basic problem 
of dropping water levels. To get more water for the aqueduct, 
the department soon renewed the purchase of riparian rights in 
streams and canals, first in the ranches of the Independence area, 
and then farther up the river toward the communities of Big 
Pine and Bishop. 

Most of the people in the upper valley saw the city's approach 
as a disrupting outside force that must be staunchly resisted. 
Otherwise, they told themselves, the fertile, mountainbound 
homeland they had developed would suffer the same fate as the 
parched and sterile lower valley. 

Leading this opposition were the two brothers who dominated 
the region's economic life, Wilfred and Mark Watterson. Their 
Inyo County Bank maintained offices in three, and later four, 
towns in the valley. In 1922 they had bought out the competing 
First National Bank of Bishop and made themselves the financial 
kings of eastern California. The role did not detract from their 

unusual popularity; valley people liked to say of them that they 
never foreclosed a mortgage or sued a debtor. 

Mark, the younger, was the good-natured mixer, inclined to 
follow the lead of his older and stronger brother. Wilfred, though 
more dignified and aloof, was nevertheless extremely well liked; 
when meeting with a group of men he had the ability, according 
to one observer, to "talk 'em out of their hind legs." His principal 
weakness was a disposition to invest in risky projects for quick 
reward an obviously dangerous trait for a banker. 

When his father, William Watterson, had headed the Inyo 
County Bank, Wilfred had argued in vain for investments in the 
mining enterprises then abounding in Inyo County. After the 
elder Watterson's death in 1912, however, Mrs. Eliza Watterson 
allowed her son to have his way in mining investments. The Na- 
tional Soda Works at Keeler on Owens Lake, the vanadium and 
tungsten mines on the side of Mount Tom near Bishop, and 
several other concerns were absorbed by the brothers in the years 
that followed. 

Beginning in 1921, the postwar recession that struck hard at 
the nation's farmers had forced a large number of Inyo settlers 
to mortgage their property to the Watterson bank. Thereafter the 
combination of persuasive ability and financial control gave them 
unusual power in their domain. 

When the idea of an irrigation district was brought forward 
in the spring of 1922 as a means of consolidating the valley's 
strength against Los Angeles, it was the Watterson brothers who 
quickly took the leadership of the movement. By turning over 
their water rights to the district, they urged their neighbors, they 
would be able to "tie the water to the land." The destiny of the 
upper valley would then be in the hands of the people as a 
whole, and no longer open to slow conquest by Los Angeles land 

Opposition to the district came from another faction led by 
an uncle of the two bankers, George Watterson. An old and re- 
spected citizen of Inyo County, he had headed the valley water 
negotiations with Los Angeles until he broke with his nephews 
over the issue of the i4O-foot dam, which he insisted would not 
be worth a costly fight with the city. George Watterson and his 
friends now argued that the bankers were trying to gain personal 


control of individual water rights through the proposed irriga- 
tion district. 

But on December 26, 1922, the citizens of Big Pine and Bishop 
voted overwhelmingly for the Owens Valley Irrigation District. 
Wilfred Watterson was installed as president and Mark Watter- 
son as treasurer. Within a month the owners of all four of the 
main upper-valley ditches Owens River Canal, Bishop Creek 
Ditch, McNally Ditch, and Owens River and Big Pine Canal 
had voted to turn their water rights over to the district. 

Before the transaction could be completed the Los Angeles 
Water Department, made desperate by drought, invaded the 
upper valley in spite of the irrigation district. In March 1923 the 
Los Angeles officials hired William Symons, president of McNally 
Ditch, to take options on all the ditch property on a commission 

"Leave no one out," he was instructed; "we want them all." 

Constructed in 1877, McNally was the oldest large-sized canal 
on Owens River, and hence carried an undeniable right to 
its 100 second-feet of water. It served most of the rich lands on 
the east side of the river in the Bishop area, making up an 
essential part of the new irrigation district. Symons quickly 
set about his task and retained Leicester C. Hall, a Bishop attor- 
ney, to aid him. Both were friends of George Watterson, leader 
of the anti-district group, who joined them without compensation 
in securing the options. 

Within twenty-four hours the three men covered almost every 
farmhouse on the river. Offering an average of $7500 per second- 
foot, they took options on about eighty per cent of the McNally 
area a total of more than a million dollars' worth of water. 

The news was made known on the streets of Bishop on March 
1 6, and the town fairly roared with indignation. Overnight the 
Los Angeles Water Department had invaded the upper valley 
and captured its eastern flank. The men who had taken the 
options kindled local wrath even higher by taking straightforward 
pride in their act. Attorney Hall justified it as a needed curb 
against the ambitions of the Wattersons, and is said to have 
boasted that he had "cut off the left arm of the irrigation 

But to almost every family in the Bishop area who did not 


oppose the Wattersons the three option takers became, as one 
newspaper characterized them, "traitors to this country." The 
battle lines at last were clearly drawn. From the purchase of 
McNally Ditch dates the real beginning of the Owens Valley 
water war. 

To agents of the city the hostile farmers promised that no 
water secured by the McNally deal would ever be allowed to 
pass on down the river to the aqueduct. Despite threats of legal 
action from Los Angeles men, the head gates of other ditches 
below the McNally intake were soon taking in the extra flow 
of its water, and the irrigators were happily agreeing that the 
city purchase had solved a pressing water shortage. 

Los Angeles agents in turn retaliated by going into the Bishop 
farm area and making indiscriminate purchases of land and 
water. The practice differed sharply from the policy shown on 
McNally and the ditches of the lower valley, which were bought 
in entirety by the offer of attractive prices, so that no individual 
farmers were left with the task of maintaining the entire ditch. 
It was claimed by the infuriated valley people that the option 
takers were deliberately "checkerboarding" the area to impress 
reluctant owners with the futility of resisting sale. City officials 
denied the charges, but if the "checkerboarding" was not 
deliberate it had the same effect and produced the same reaction. 

Most strategic ditch involved was the Owens River and Big 
Pine Canal, whose 100 second-feet of water rights irrigated more 
than half the lands around the town of Big Pine. Although a 
younger water filing than the McNally, and hence inferior to 
it in right of usage, the Big Pine Canal was some sixteen miles 
downstream from the city's newly won property. The Los Angeles 
water that was allowed to flow past the McNally Ditch toward the 
aqueduct intake ran the gamut of every head gate in the Bishop 
area, and if any was left it found its way into the waiting mouth 
of the Big Pine Canal. South of this head gate Owens River 
was as dry as the Mojave Desert during the summer months of 
1923; whatever water the aqueduct carried was taken from side 
streams and wells in the lower valley. 

The city's predicament in paying more than a million dollars 
for something it could not use became a prime joke among valley 
farmers and a serious problem for the Water Department. Legal 

proceedings against the diversions might take months. In the 
meantime Haiwee Reservoir, the main seasonal regulator for the 
aqueduct, was reduced to a scant 8000 acre-feet by the severe 
drought. Irrigation water in San Fernando Valley had been shut 
off for days at a time while crops withered and died. Los Angeles 
officials were ready for almost any measure that would bring an 
added share of Owens Valley water down the parched conduit. 

City men first invaded the Big Pine area with cash and option 
papers, but its citizens formed themselves into a "pool" and de- 
manded a total price equal to about $15,000 per second-foot. 
Refusing this offer, the agents turned to negotiations with the 
Owens Valley water users as a whole. In July the Board of Water 
Commissioners the governing body for the department met 
with W. W. Watterson and at his suggestion framed a proposal 
for a peaceful division of the river. The valley would guarantee 
that a third of the river's flow should be allowed to pass on down 
to the aqueduct, and the city would agree to refrain from further 
land and water purchases. To reach final agreement on this plan, 
W. B. Mathews and H. A. Van Norman traveled to Bishop for a 
mass meeting of the valley farmers set for August 13, 1923. 

But when the proposal was first revealed to valley farmers, 
stout objection came from the Big Pine owners. They pointed out 
that, according to valley custom, water not used by any one 
ditch belonged to diversion points lower on the river. Un- 
doubtedly the Big Piners, keenly aware that they were the masters 
of the situation, did not want to submit to a general agreement 
without playing out their hand. 

Possibly as a move to weaken the Big Pine position, city agents 
in the valley sent a crew of men, mules, and scrapers to Big Pine 
to take what one of them described as "primitive measures." On 
the same day as the scheduled meeting in Bishop, the Big Piners 
discovered the city grading equipment and the beginning of a 
cut opposite the mouth of their canal. Situated at the point of a 
U-bend in the meandering river bed, the farmers' head gate 
would be left "high and dry" if a ditch were completed across 
that narrow neck of land. 

Within a few minutes a carload of outraged men was bouncing 
out the old Bishop road to the home of George Warren, Big 
Pine's representative among the irrigation district directors. 


Warren, shrewd and self-possessed, had served for several years 
as president of the valley's Associated Chambers of Commerce. 
Quickly his friends described the emergency. 

"We'll have to get an injunction!" one of them concluded. 

Warren's view, however, was that the city's officials hoped by 
this means to precipitate a court decision on its water claims. 

"We're not able to fight the city in court," he argued: "What 
we want is a shotgun injunction!" 

Back to town the Big Piners rambled in their auto, stopping 
at farmhouses on the way to gather recruits. By late afternoon 
a staunch citizens' posse of some twenty men, armed with rifles and 
shotguns, headed eastward out of Big Pine. Crossing Owens 
River, they stationed themselves on the neck of land where the 
city's men had begun the cut. 

Shortly afterward George Warren and another rancher followed 
a set of wagon tracks leading away through the brush to the place 
where the city employees were camped. In charge of the outfit 
was a man whom Warren knew as "One-eyed" Dodson. After 
an exchange of greetings the Big Piner stated his business. 

"Are you hired to fight for the city?" he demanded. 

Dodson announced that he was not. 

"Well, we've got our men over there on the river," he was 
told. "We don't want any shootin', but we're not going to let you 
make that cut." 

One-eyed Dodson decided that he also wanted no shooting. 

"We won't go back there till we hear from you," he agreed. 

At the bend of the river the guardsmen heard Warren's report 
with satisfaction. They clinched the victory by throwing the 
city's grading equipment in the river, and settled down to guard 
the head gate through the night. 

With their strategic hold on Owens River maintained by 
"right of shotgun," the Big Piners sent a strongly backed dele- 
gation to the water meeting at Bishop that evening. While Van 
Norman and Mathews stood ready to sign the proposed agree- 
ment, W. W. Watterson presided and outlined it once again to 
the crowded room of farmers. In addition to the allotment of a 
third of the Owens River to Los Angeles, it provided for the 
abandonment of further city purchases, the lifting of the valley's 
suit against the loo-foot Long Valley Dam, and the construction 


of water wells by the city in the Bishop area, to be operated by 
the farmers in time of drought. 

After Watterson had finished, it appeared that the city and the 
valley were ready to mend the crisis that was being emphasized 
with rifles a few miles to the south. But when the chairman asked 
if there was any criticism George Warren stood up in his place 
with the Big Pine delegation. 

"I have some criticism to make," he announced. 

Warren then went over the agreement point by point, demand- 
ing why the irrigation district should be obliged to give away a 
third of its water, and in particular why Watterson himself had 
undertaken to be so generous. Other Big Pine speakers followed, 
and pointedly asked the Los Angeles men whether they intended 
to complete the disputed cut if the agreement were denied. The 
city officials were noncommittal. 

"I think we'd better have a recess and talk this thing over," 
decided Watterson, who had paled with anger at the Big Pine 

"We don't need a recess," Warren shouted back. "That agree- 
ment is dead as hell!" 

The negotiations collapsed. After a short discussion among 
groups of water users, Watterson reported to Van Norman and 
Mathews that the district could not allow any water to pass on 
down the river "so long as it was needed in the valley." Agree- 
ment was impossible without the co-operation of the Big Pine 
ditch owners, who had enforced their position with words as well 
as guns. 

Within two days, during which the Big Pine riflemen relieved 
each other in a round-the-clock vigil, the city crew struck camp 
and departed. Up and down the valley the Big Pine affair was 
hailed as a first victory in the Los Angeles fight. It would stand 
out, declared the Independence paper, "as one of the prominent 
things that saved this valley." 

"Los Angeles, it's your move now," challenged the Big Pine 
Citizen. "We're ready for you." 

But it soon became apparent that the main effect of the Big 
Pine stand was to force a wholesale purchase by the city. Los 
Angeles agents had already invaded the area, and formal 
negotiations were promptly opened by the Water Department. 


At a stormy meeting on October 15, 1923, the Big Pine owners 
voted to sell 4416 acres and the water rights to Los Angeles for 
$1,100,000 a price which made more than one rancher finan- 
cially independent. 

Some of the owners and their families, attached to the land by 
ties stronger than money, opposed sale at any price, but bitterly 
agreed to the offer rather than be forced to maintain the entire 
Big Pine Canal themselves. It was such minority farmers, selling 
against their will, who naturally held a real grievance against 
the Los Angeles invasion. Yet their hatred was caused more by 
fear than actual harm; in cases where isolated ranchers did not 
sell, their full share of water was scrupulously delivered by the 
Los Angeles Water Department. Nor did the city take a single 
piece of land or water by condemnation or unlawful means; in 
practically every case its prices were above the valley market, 
though not equaling the actual value of the water as applied in 
Southern California. 

The people's principal objection was the atmosphere of un- 
certainty which the city's opportunist methods cast over the valley. 
Where indiscriminate buying was employed, individual ranchers 
feared their neighbors would sell out and leave them isolated. 
If entire ditches were purchased the townspeople of Bishop and 
Big Pine noted with dismay a wholesale exodus of customers they 
had served for years. In the neglected orchards and abandoned 
farmhouses the people as a whole saw a stark contrast to the 
undisturbed scene in Owens Valley before the city came. 

Valley hatred was further inflamed when the anti-Watterson 
forces, led by lawyer L. C. Hall, took steps to prevent the con- 
centration of water rights in the irrigation district. Bonds were 
issued by the district to buy the stock of the ditch companies, 
but Hall, presumed to be acting on behalf of the city, was able 
to disrupt the transaction by legal proceedings in February 1924. 
This frustration of plans was the final provocation for the upper- 
valley farmers. 

Though their irrigation district had been spiked, they still 
retained possession of the water itself. Los Angeles men found 
that in spite of the McNally and Big Pine purchases most of the 
water they had bought twice was still being diverted into the 
private ditches in the upper valley. Obviously the farmers were 


determined that the city should not settle its water problem 
simply by amputating two ditches from the rest of the district. 
The generous prices paid for the McNally and Big Pine canals had 
suddenly impressed them with the value of their water to the 
city of Los Angeles. By continuing to withhold the water already 
bought, they meant to make the city officials "buy us all, or leave 
us alone." 

5: California's Civil War 

By early 1924 the valley population was so aroused that unified 
action came hurriedly and with deadly earnestness. At meetings 
held in local ranch houses, plans were laid for a long fight 
against Los Angeles. These sessions developed a leadership which 
earned a general allegiance. Most dominant, of course, were 
Wilfred and Mark Watterson, whose personal charm and finan- 
cial power had already influenced valley affairs for years. Chief 
among the ranchers was Karl Keough, whose family had first 
settled in the valley in the 18705. Ordinarily hearty and easy- 
going, Keough displayed such steel nerve and cool judgment 
in a crisis that his leadership was almost automatic. He held the 
presidency of the Owens River Canal, largest of all the valley 
ditches, which tapped the river above Bishop and paralleled the 
main stream some fourteen miles to his own resort at Keough 
Hot Springs. 

Providing invaluable publicity for the cause was Harry Glass- 
cock, the tall, swashbuckling editor of the Owens Valley Herald. 
A brother of the Western author, Carl B. Glasscock, the head- 
strong newspaperman was indeed the firebrand of the valley's 
fight. Although Willie Chalfant, editor of the rival Inyo Register, 
was more generally respected and equally as adamant against the 
city, it was Glasscock whose newspaper and publicity contacts 
were wholly at the disposal of the valley's leadership. 

In addition to a general mobilization, the more extreme ele- 
ment in the Bishop area formed a secret organization to back up 
the irrigation district's stand with force, if that became necessary. 
During the summer of 1923, while a revival of the Ku Klux Klan 


was raging throughout the nation, an organizer was brought into 
Owens Valley to help form its own band of Klansmen. An inner 
group of this faction took as its main purpose an underground 
opposition to the Los Angeles water board and its representatives. 
Night meetings were held in open fields, where auto headlights 
were turned outward to prevent the approach of eavesdropping 
city agents. 

One of this group's first moves was a series of night visitations 
to homes of those who had opposed the irrigation district. George 
Watterson, L. G. Hall, and Bill Symons were all told that their 
further presence in Owens Valley was at the risk of their lives. 

The demands were met with equal firmness from the threat- 
ened men, who held that they were the real defenders of the 
valley. All three secured gun permits and began carrying revolvers 
for self-protection. Bill Symons of McNally Ditch habitually 
carried a double-barreled shotgun whenever he drove his team 
into Bishop. When George Watterson was threatened a second 
time, his husky young son Alfred accosted Mark Watterson in 
front of the Bishop bank. 

"If anything happens to my father," he told him in a rage, 
"I'll hold you accountable." 

More than once L. C. Hall was asked by Sheriff Charles Collins 
to leave the valley and ease the situation. At length the officer 
asked the state attorney general how he might secure Hall's de- 

"If he wants to commit suicide," said the official, "you're not 

Finally Hall was prevailed upon to restrict his operations in 
Bishop. He remained in the upper valley, however, and a few 
months later on August 27, 1924 caused a sensation by ap- 
pearing once more on the streets of the town. A band of deter- 
mined men met and apparently decided that if their supremacy 
was to be maintained the time had come to fulfill the threats that 
had been so openly disregarded. 

While Mark Watterson paced back and forth, surveying the 
scene from across the street, three or four men entered a 
restaurant where Hall was eating at the counter. Without a word 
they seized him, snatched the gun from his belt and, while the 
startled patrons watched in amazement, hustled him out the back 


door with a strong arm about his neck. He was placed in a car 
in the alley, and in a moment an escort of four autos raced 
southward out of Bishop, carrying a grim force of some twenty- 
five men. Hall was almost unconscious when the grip on his neck 
was released after a few minutes' drive. It was then made plain to 
him that he was to be hanged as a valley traitor. 

A few moments later the caravan passed a man walking along 
the road; the fear that he might identify the cars and their oc- 
cupants caused a sudden disruption in plans. Several stops were 
made while the leaders hurriedly conversed. Hall was taken out of 
the car more than once in the confusion, during which he took 
opportunity to argue his own defense. 

"I'm fifty-two years old," he told his captors with as much 
composure as possible, "and I've done nothing to be ashamed of. 
You're allowing your prejudice to make you commit a crime 
you'll have on your consciences for the rest of your lives." 

At one stop near a cottonwood tree a rope was produced, and 
Hall was taken from the car once more. 

"Give my regards to the Wattersons," he remarked bitterly. 
"They're the ones behind this." 

When Hall believed his minutes were numbered he gave voice 
to a distress signal known to the Masonic fraternity. Several men 
in the group surrounding him were Masons. One in particular 
showed evidence that he had been moved by this call from a 
lodge brother. It was soon apparent that this last resort had saved 
Hall's life. 

More conferences were held, and the caravan then headed 
southward again under a final change of plans. Hall was taken 
to Big Pine, where he was released at the home of George Warren 
with orders to leave the county and never return. Next day, 
after Sheriff Collins had arrived and advised him to leave, Hall 
made his way out of the valley that had been his home for most 
of the past twenty years. He established a law practice in South- 
ern California and now lives in retirement at his home in 

Finding their deed unchallenged by the law, the extremists 
in the upper valley began extending their threats to Los Angeles 
employees. The right-of-way and land agent, who had been 
particularly active in "checkerboard" purchases, was visited by 
a delegation and told to leave the valley. 


His place as the city's chief local representative was taken by 
Edward F. Leahey, a husky, red-haired Irishman who was re- 
spected by most citizens as a man of straightforward methods. 
Leahey had grown with the Water Department since the days of 
aqueduct construction and was already acquainted with the 
valley situation after several years of employment there. A man of 
quick wit and decisive movements, he was big enough physically 
to carry a certain assurance in spite of his uncomfortable position 
on top of the valley powder keg. Inevitably the business of "run- 
ning people out of the valley" was mentioned to him one day in 
his Bishop office by one of the Klan members. 

"Don't think much of it," snapped Leahey. 

"If your life was threatened, what would you do?" 

"I'd kill just as many as I could draw a bead on!" 

If this challenge was not relayed to Klan headquarters it at 
least became common knowledge among Bishop's radical group. 
Members may have failed to exercise every threat against their 
enemies, but it was not from a lack of conviction. They possessed 
a calculated sense of how far their lawlessness could be carried 
without hurting their own cause. 

It was in March 1924 that the withholding of water by the 
Bishop farmers began to aggravate the drought conditions al- 
ready prevailing. With consumption in Los Angeles often running 
higher than the aqueduct's flow into Haiwee Reservoir, Southern 
California once more faced a dangerous water shortage. Mul- 
holland was in Washington when he was notified of the situation, 
and promptly wired the Water Department to shut off irrigation 
altogether in San Fernando Valley. Out of the Los Angeles office 
came a crisp notice: "No water is to be delivered to open lands 
for field crops until we get a rainfall." 

Faced with crop destruction, a party of seven leading San 
Fernandans headed for Owens Valley to buy 50,000 acre-feet of 
water. In Bishop they were greeted cordially by valley leaders, 
were shown the two main canals running brim full, and then 
were told that "not one drop of water" was for sale. They were 
informed, however, that the entire area both land and water 
could be delivered in forty-eight hours for a total of $8,000,000, 
including $750,000 in reparations to placate the Bishop mer- 
chants. At last the upper valley had found a strategic opportunity 
to state its own terms of sale. 


Back to San Fernando went the delegation. At an Associated 
Chamber of Commerce meeting on March 18 they made a dis- 
couraging report. Mulholland, having returned from Washing- 
ton, attended the meeting himself and helped to prevent any 
serious consideration of the Bishop proposal. 

Yet it was soon obvious that the valley's stand would not de- 
pend on a single rejection. Starting on April 2, a publicity cam- 
paign was actively opened with a series of articles in Hearst's San 
Francisco Call under the provocative title, "The Valley of Broken 
Hearts." Written by a former Owens Valley newspaperman and 
a brother-in-law of the Wattersons, the articles reported the 
aqueduct controversy to all of California for the first time. They 
spoke in particular of the reversion of unwatered valley lands to 
desert, and of the city's "relentless" land-buying methods. In many 
instances, it was said, "men and women have blotted their sig- 
natures with tears." The city now had the choice, concluded 
the articles, of building its Long Valley Dam and guaranteeing 
water to the Bishop users, or proceeding to buy out the entire 
valley. Of the two, the people now favored an $8,000,000 sale 
instead of the dam as an end to the "weary problem." 

The Call series was effective enough in stating the valley's 
case; what followed gave it an emphasis that could not be over- 
looked. On May 10 the city filed suit against the remaining valley 
canals for recovery of McNally and Big Pine water which they 
were "wrongfully diverting." The move was taken as final legal 
action to underline the city's water priority in its McNally 
filings, the oldest on the river. Though the suit was to be expected 
in consequence of the valley's diversion of all the river water, it 
nevertheless threw the people into renewed anger. 

Whether in retaliation against this new threat or as part of 
a deliberate scheme, a body of about forty men met south of 
Bishop on the evening of May 20, 1924, with three boxes of 
dynamite taken from the Watterson powder house at the railroad 
station. Someone later complained that there were so many eager 
volunteers in the plot that they hindered its efficiency. 

In a caravan of eleven cars they filed down the valley highway 
and passed through Independence with lights extinguished and 
license plates removed, while the town's population stood gaping. 
A few miles north of the town of Lone Pine they pulled off the 


road alongside the Alabama Hills and began their work. Part of 
the crew was detailed to watch for signs of aqueduct patrolmen; 
another group set about disrupting nearby telephone lines. Three 
carloads of men drove to a covered spillway gate in the open- 
ditch portion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. There they placed the 
dynamite against the cement gate and attached fifty feet of 

Shortly after I A.M., Lone Pine was awakened as if by an 
earthquake. At the place of explosion great blocks of concrete 
were thrown high in the air, cutting telephone and power lines, 
and landing as far as a quarter of a mile away. The spillway 
gates themselves were tossed fifty feet up the mountainside. Forty 
feet of the concrete ditch was blasted away, but a great shower of 
rocks and debris fell back into the hole and prevented more than 
five or six second-feet of water from escaping. 

The dynamiters, scarcely anxious to review their work, were 
already scattering over the byroads near Independence to find 
their way back to Bishop later. Within an hour the entire lower 
valley was alive with activity. City employees discovered the 
break and began piling up dirt-filled gunny sacks to stop the loss 
of the precious water. Sheriff Charles Collins and District 
Attorney Jess Hession arrived promptly, followed by their 
deputies and investigators. 

In Los Angeles, Mulholland and the water board went before 
the City Council that morning with the news, and $10,000 re- 
ward was quickly offered for the authors of the "dastardly" crime. 
Squads of deputy sheriffs, city police, and detectives rattled 
northward in open cars and were on the scene by early afternoon 
in search of clues. Close behind them was the city's newspaper 
contingent. The Times sent a photographer in an Army plane 
from Clover Field to circle the area and wing southward again 
with the first shots of the break. 

The carload of reporters arriving in the valley found its 
citizens grimly sympathetic with the dynamiters, but sternly silent 
to any queries about their identity. The first excitement had 
passed when most of the city newsmen gathered on the steps of 
the Dow Hotel in Lone Pine to discuss the occurrence with 
editor Harry Glasscock of Bishop. One young reporter from the 
Los Angeles Herald arrived full of questions about the names of 


the dynamiters and how they had planned the blow. Though his 
indiscretion met with icy silence from the bystanders, he continued 
to press eagerly for answers. At length the exasperated Harry 
Glasscock accosted him and demanded that he head back for 
Los Angeles. 

"If you don't leave/' he warned when the man hesitated, "I'll 
shoot you!" 

At the time Harry wore a revolver in a side Holster, and the 
young reporter did not dally in his departure. Glasscock returned 
to his conversation and the other pressmen made a mental note 
of proper valley etiquette. 

The hostility displayed by the Bishop editor, in fact, was no 
stronger than sentiment throughout Owens Valley. In the streets 
of Bishop the blowup was the universal topic. Many observed 
that it was done to warn the city and "protect our homes." E. F. 
Leahey, the city's representative in Owens Valley, received word 
to stay out of Bishop a warning which he promptly disregarded 
without harm. When other city investigators came to Bishop as the 
most likely source of the trouble, the citizens held a closed meet- 
ing, discussed a proposal to run them out of town, and finally 
voted it down as too extreme. Glasscock's Owens Valley Herald 
openly called the dynamiting "merely the protest of an outraged 

"There is a limit," he declared, "to what a law-abiding people 
can stand." 

Feeling was further inflamed when Mulholland, outraged at 
this attack on the water source for which he felt such a re- 
sponsibility, made public statements against Owens Valley 
ranchers. Word came immediately for him to stay out of Bishop 
to avoid being lynched. 

"They wouldn't have the nerve," the old man growled de- 
fiantly. "I'd just as soon walk the whole length of Owens Valley 

He afterward traveled through the valley, including Bishop, 
whenever occasion required. But a cousin, who was stopping at 
an Independence hotel, discreetly registered himself under an 
alias rather than sign the name "Mulholland." 

If the men who dynamited the aqueduct intended it, as was 
claimed, as a warning to the city to "speed up action," they were 

wholly successful. Within five days the valley was invited to send 
a delegation to discuss the water situation with the Los Angeles 
Chamber of Commerce. In a matter of hours W. W. Watterson, 
Karl Keough, and four other representatives headed southward 
to confer with the Chamber's committee. Later the Los Angeles 
group returned the visit and inspected Owens Valley at first hand. 
They went back to the city filled with valley sentiment and turned 
in a report calling on the water board to buy the remaining 
property at prices fixed by a board of arbitrators a proposal 
which Watterson had assured them would be satisfactory. The 
valley's indignation was not relieved when the Chamber report 
was withheld from the public because, as the water board later 
explained, the committee's investigation "consisted almost en- 
tirely of interviewing Mr. W. W. Watterson and his associates." 

A few days later the upper valley played host to the editorial 
staff of the Los Angeles Record, a Scripps-Howard newspaper 
specializing in exposes. When the newsmen departed Wilfred 
Watterson had gained a permanent ally in Los Angeles. On June 
24 the Record startled its readers with the headline, "City's 
Water Supply in Danger," and the warning, "Blood may color 
the aqueduct water and a real explosion choke this city with 
thirst." In a series of front-page articles it described the valley's 
plight, emphasized the bitter feeling of its citizens, and proposed 
that the city buy valley land with prices fixed by a disinterested 

Next came a three-man engineering board headed by no less 
a valley acquaintance than J. B. Lippincott. Its purpose was to 
examine the water resources of Owens River and report to 
the water commissioners on possible methods of dividing it be- 
tween city and valley. In an official report on August 14, 1924, the 
engineers claimed that proper water development would allow 
permanent irrigation of 30,000 acres in Owens Valley and still 
provide just enough water in dry years for a full aqueduct. The 
revelation was at the same time a blow to valley hopes for whole- 
sale purchase and a welcome feeling of independence to the 
Board of Water Commissioners. 

Armed with the water knowledge in the Lippincott report, the 
entire board, accompanied by Mulholland, Mathews, Van Nor- 
man, and a corps of stenographers and newspapermen, arrived 


in the valley to confer with its leaders early in September. At 
a public meeting in Bishop W. W. Watterson told them that the 
only fair solution was to buy the whole district at a price which 
included compensation for damages already done. Before the 
water board left the valley its chairman was ready to promise that 
everything possible would be done to reach a fair understanding. 
"There is no question but mistakes have been made," admitted 
one of the commissioners. 

If the valley men believed they had induced the water board 
to buy their entire irrigation district they were promptly dis- 
illusioned. On October 14 the commissioners announced their 
long-sought policy on Owens River in a resolution to "keep 
30,000 acres green." Acting on the findings in the Lippincott 
report, they offered to set aside that amount of land free of city 
purchase, and to do all in their power to develop surface and 
underground water "to at least insure a full supply for said 
irrigated areas and the aqueduct." They further promised, in 
compensation for loss of business from previous land purchases, to 
help build up the valley communities by highway and transporta- 
tion improvements that would increase tourist trade. 

As soon as the text of the resolutions reached Owens Valley, 
Wilfred Watterson called a meeting of the irrigation district 
directors. In a bitter counterresolution they rejected the proposal 
as "unacceptable." 

On the surface its basic weakness was that it provided no 
concrete compensation to the townspeople for their loss of trade. 
But underlying the disagreement was a more subtle clash of pur- 
poses. At that time the Los Angeles officials needed no more valley 
water than they had already bought, and intended to concede 
little more than necessary to secure its free passage past the 
valley head gates and into the aqueduct. Valley people, on the 
other hand, would not overlook the inroads already made. Their 
weapon was the water the city had purchased, and they would 
neither relinquish it nor make a compromise agreement until 
Los Angeles bought the entire irrigation district in a lump settle- 
ment. It was now they, and not the water commissioners, who 
desired the sale of the upper valley. 

The Bishop people were also aware of the city's need for a 
peaceable population at the source of its water supply. Valley 

newspapers did not hesitate to mention this factor in their violent 
reactions to the city's proposal. 

"The people here have shown that they can protect their 
homes," cried Harry Glasscock in his Owens Valley Herald, "and 
they will show it again if it becomes necessary." 

The Big Pine Citizen added that if the people of Los Angeles 
could not be convinced of "the seriousness of our situation here, 
we will be compelled to use other means to try and save complete 
destruction of our homes and businesses." 

Evidently the decision to take drastic action was made by 
valley leaders soon after the water board's announcement. When 
Van Norman and Mathews reached Bishop to negotiate the 
agreement early in November, Watterson and his irrigation 
district spokesmen went through the motions of a formal meeting, 
but neither accepted nor rejected the proposals. Six days after 
the city men left with negotiations still pending, Owens Valley's 
citizens took steps to pass over the head of the water board and 
bring their plight to the forcible attention of the state of Cali- 

On the morning of November 16, 1924, between sixty and a 
hundred men, led by Mark Watterson and Karl Keough, left 
Bishop in a cavalcade of automobiles and paraded southward 
through Independence with drawn shades. A mile north of the 
spot previously dynamited they pulled up at the Alabama Gates, 
one of the main points provided for turning floodwaters out of 
the aqueduct. Without delay they climbed up the hill, took 
possession of the control house, and turned the wheels that 
opened the gates beneath. A flood of some 290 second-feet of 
water churned down the spillway, splashed across the highway, 
and made its way over the valley floor to the dry bed of the 
Owens River. Not a drop continued down the great cement 
trough of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. 

The gatekeeper came running up to protest, but he was simply 
ignored. Sheriff Charles Collins, who had seen the caravan pass 
through Independence, arrived soon after and went through the 
futile motion of asking the men to desist. When he began to write 
down a list of those present they crowded about, each one insist- 
ing that he "put my name down." He was told that the party 
would keep possession of the gates "until we gain our point." 


When news of the seizure was conveyed to Ed Leahey, the 
city's representative in the valley, he disregarded a warning to 
stay away from the gates. Driving southward from Bishop, he 
stopped at Independence to demand that the county authorities 
accompany him to the scene. When this was refused he wheeled 
down to the Alabama Gates. 

Leaving his car at the foot of the hill, Leahey started hiking 
up the slope beside the roaring spillway to the wheelhouse above. 
Through one of its windows a noose suddenly appeared and 
dangled before his eyes. 

Leahey could do nothing but assume that the macabre warning 
did not exist. When he reached the top Mark Watterson, Keough, 
and four others came out of the house. 

"You armed?" someone asked. 

The city official threw open his coat to show that he was not. 
There was an embarrassing pause, during which someone asked 
if Leahey would "have some coffee." 

"Who's in charge here?" he asked abruptly. 

"We're all in charge," returned Mark Watterson. 

"You can't contend we have no right to this water," he told 
them. "It's not hurting anybody going down the ditch." 

"Don't you realize," Watterson retorted, "that, whether people 
are damaged or think they are, the effect is the same?" 

"You can tell Mathews and Mulholland that we're going to 
stay here till they settle with us," added someone else. 

The city representative realized the demonstration was no sud- 
den outbreak, but a calculated effort to bring Los Angeles to 

"If you try to close these gates we'll make our own gates," 
warned Watterson as Leahey made ready to leave. 

The last was a veiled reference to a cache of dynamite under- 
stood to be hidden in the hill behind the gates. Though the men 
displayed no guns, they were determined to hold off any attempt 
to recapture the aqueduct. 

Leahey immediately phoned Mathews in Los Angeles. Two 
carloads of detectives and investigators were hurriedly dispatched 
from the city. When the valley people heard of their coming, a 
band of embattled settlers gathered in Bishop to demand arms 
from the Watterson hardware store. Sheriff Collins, frantically 


trying to prevent bloodshed, rushed southward and met the Los 
Angeles men below Lone Pine. 

"If you go up there and start any trouble," he warned, "not 
one of you'll get back to tell the tale." 

It is said that the investigators left Owens Valley without a 
look at the Alabama Gates. 

But the next contingent of Los Angeles men was more warmly 
received. By nightfall a squad of newsmen arrived to find the 
seizure operation working efficiently. Two aqueduct searchlights 
had been commandeered and now converged on their auto as it 
approached. Barbed wire had been spread at the base of the hill, 
where a sentry challenged them on the single path that led up to 
the gates. But when Harry Glasscock came down and vouched for 
them they were roundly welcomed at the wheelhouse and allowed 
to sleep there through the night among the forty men who 
guarded the gates, while the aqueduct water continued to thunder 
down the cascade toward Owens River. 

But already the city water board was taking hurried action. 
Up from Los Angeles on the night train came S. B. Robinson, able 
assistant to Mathews in the Water Department's legal counsel. 
Ed Leahey met him with an auto at Lone Pine, and while passing 
the spillway the two were stopped by a crew of guardsmen, who 
allowed them to pass after a few apprehensive moments. 

Next morning at Independence, Robinson demanded an in- 
junction against the spillway gang from Inyo's respected superior 
judge, William D. Dehy. A temporary restraining order was 
issued, but when Sheriff Collins served seventy-five copies of it 
at the spillway the group gave him a polite but firm refusal. To 
his chagrin several of the men threw the documents into the rush- 
ing spillway. 

"No, Sheriff," said one of them, "we won't leave here until 
the state troops come in and put us out. We haven't been treated 
right and we're going to stick until we have let the state and the 
country know the facts." 

To show him they felt no ill will at his official act, several of 
them jokingly picked up the dignified officer as he was leaving 
and carried him in a sitting position to his automobile. 

With the injunction ignored, Robinson demanded that Judge 
Dehy issue warrants for the arrest of the men at the gates. 


The magistrate then replied by declaring himself disqualified to 
act "by personal interest." The move also invalidated the in- 
junction he had issued, and the men were left without any legal 
restraint whatever. The same day Karl Keough gave emphasis to 
the situation with an announcement to the press. 

"We are here to keep this spillway open. We will stay here 
until we are driven out or dragged out." 

By noon on the seventeenth more than twenty women had 
arrived from Bishop and were serving their husbands a picnic 
lunch. From every community in the valley people were arriv- 
ing all day long, either to stand by and view the scene with 
satisfaction, or to take an active part in supporting the original 
contingent. Soon the spillway seizure became a grand Owens 
Valley reunion. Ranchers and businessmen gathered about the 
campfires in cheerful conversation while their wives brought hot 
meals from homes in Independence. Even the minister of the 
Bishop Baptist Church was on "the hill" with the rest. 

"I am here because most of my congregation is here," he 

In Bishop, where practically every store was closed, a large 
sign had been placed on the flagpole in the center of town: "If 
I am not on the job, you will find me at the Aqueduct." 

On the eighteenth more than seven hundred persons were 
constant participants in the demonstration; stoves, tents, and 
beds were erected for a more permanent camp. Movie star Tom 
Mix and his company, then on location in the Alabama Hills, 
visited the gathering and contributed an orchestra. 

Next day the crowd held a huge barbecue, supplied with food 
by Bishop butchers and grocerymen. Fifty Bishop housewives 
each made a pie and arrived at the spillway with their children 
to officiate at the picnic. Mrs. Harry Glasscock came late after 
running off the weekly issue of her husband's paper, which carried 
a rousing news story on the seizure. Everyone in the valley was 
invited, including S. B. Robinson and the city's employees. Even 
Sheriff Collins joined the throng which gathered on the hill 
to enjoy Owens Valley's best barbecued beef. 

But behind the carefree atmosphere was an earnestness of 
purpose in their presence at the Alabama Gates. Late in the day 
the crowds gathered wearily about the campfires, the women sit- 


ting beside their husbands, holding the smaller children. The 
Baptist minister produced his church hymnbooks, and soon the 
heavy strains of "Onward, Christian Soldiers" issued from several 
hundred throats and swept across the valley. Below them the 
water continued to roar down the spillway for the fourth con- 
secutive day. On the edge of the aqueduct near the wheelhouse a 
woman was silently watching the flow when someone pointed out 
the tiny blades of grass that had begun to sprout along the edge of 
the stream. 

"Yes, that is the lifeblood of this valley," she observed thought- 
fully, "and if they'd just let it circulate the valley would come 
back to life." 

It was no coincidence that the seizure occurred at a time when 
Wilfred Watterson was in Los Angeles to outline valley grievances 
to the city's banking organization, the Clearing House Associa- 
tion. In a meeting on November 18, the third day of the aqueduct 
seizure, he addressed the bankers for an hour on the water dis- 
pute, recommending the purchase of the irrigation district 
for "between $12,000,000 and $15,000,000." 

The Clearing House members then told Watterson with ill- 
concealed anger that there could be "no talk of conference and 
compromise" while he stood there "defending the lawlessness of 
the Bishop mob." It is said they also told him that if he did 
not get the gates closed they would shut off his bank's credit. 

At the same time the Los Angeles newspapers were outraged 
at what the Examiner called the "big card" in a "gigantic holdup 
scheme." The Express accused the ranchers of "pure vandalism" 
in wasting Los Angeles water, and joined the Examiner in de- 
manding that they be tried and punished. But the Record, whose 
policy had favored the valley for months, insisted that the 
ranchers were "fighting for their homes and the right to exist." 
It was the Times which struck a middle attitude: 

"These farmers are not anarchists nor bomb throwers, but in 
the main honest, hardworking American citizens." Admitting "a 
measure of justice on their side of the argument," the paper called 
for restraint from the ranchers and generosity from the city. 
"There must be no civil war in Southern California." 

But the story of "California's little civil war" was already being 
headlined across the nation, covered by an article in the Literary 


Digest, and featured in newspapers as far away as France and 
Sweden. California's own press, while deploring a resort to 
force, was generally supporting the ranchers and demanding that 
Los Angeles submit the case to arbitration. 

Before long the unfavorable publicity was affecting farm im- 
migration into Southern California, and a Los Angeles com- 
mercial group sent circulars to 750 California editors asking them 
to call off the attack. That this pro-valley campaign may not have 
been spontaneous in every case is suggested by the claim of the 
Wattersons a few months later that "we have spent in actual 
cash for publicity and otherwise over $30,000" in the fight against 
Los Angeles. 

But the city water board would not be high-pressured into 
a change of policy as long as its water supply remained in hostile 
hands. Haiwee Reservoir was already low from another year of 
drought, and a prolonged loss of water would eventually be felt 
in the city itself. To lawyer Mathews the board gave the 
peremptory order to "get the aqueduct back in the possession of 
Los Angeles. . . ." 

The Los Angeles county sheriff was then prevailed upon to 
get in touch with the sheriffs of Kern and Ventura counties and 
assure their help if needed in the crisis. To the harassed Sheriff 
Collins of Inyo County came a wire describing the force available 
in Southern California to aid in dispersing the mob. 

Collins was too busy to answer the offer. For three days he had 
been carrying on a frantic correspondence by wire with Governor 
Friend W. Richardson to secure the state militia which the 
spillway mob seemed to desire. 

"Confident party will disperse and bloodshed be averted," he 
telegraphed, "only by arrival of state troops." 

"You have abundant power to control situation," answered 
the governor. "Do your duty bravely and in the end you will 
receive commendation." 

Collins wanted troops, not commendation. He repeated his 
request in a second telegram: "Please send them forthwith." 

"I hope you will do your duty fearlessly," returned Governor 
Richardson. "People elect sheriffs to stand up and prove their 

That kind of courage, Collins knew, would not withstand the 

next valley election. Inyo's District Attorney Hession then stepped 
into the dispute; after being driven at top speed to Mojave, 
he caught a train for Sacramento and appealed to the governor 
personally for a corps of militia. But Richardson had already sent 
a special investigator, and considered that action sufficient. This 
one element in the well-laid plans of the aqueduct seizers was a 
significant failure; a coolheaded governor would not give their 
act the publicity value of a dispersal by state militia. 

But on the night of the nineteenth word from another quarter 
made a heavy impression on the spillway people. Wilfred Watter- 
son had sent a telegram from Los Angeles to his brother at the 
Alabama Gates: 

"If the object of the crowd at the spillway is to bring their 
wrongs to the attention of the citizens of Los Angeles, then they 
have done so 100 per cent. ... I have the assurance that strong 
influence here will be brought to bear on the situation to see that 
justice is done." 

Shortly afterward Watterson himself arrived in the valley and 
met with a twelve-man delegation from the spillway at his soda 
works at Keeler on Owens Lake. There he explained that the 
Los Angeles Clearing House Association had finally agreed to use 
its "best efforts with the business interests of this city to bring 
about an equitable settlement" if the ranchers would give up the 

The group then returned to the spillway and early on the 
morning of the twentieth turned the great wheels in the control 
house that lowered the Alabama Gates. The four-day stream that 
had flowed across Owens Valley to the river was made dry, and 
once more the full flow of the aqueduct went hurtling on its way 
down the cement ditch to Haiwee Reservoir. 

Early in the day people began arriving from both ends of the 
valley for a final barbecue to celebrate the end of the long vigil. 
Some fifteen hundred persons assembled on the hill, joined in 
community songs, and listened with moistened eyes to encourag- 
ing speeches from W. W. Watterson and others. Before sundown 
the crowd broke camp and left the historic Alabama Gates, which 
stand today to the left of the highway four miles north of Lone 

To District Attorney Jess Hession at Sacramento, tired Sheriff 

Collins dispatched a wire urging that the governor be asked to 
see that the Los Angeles banking group carry out its intentions: 
"The farmers assert that the city officials never have kept a 
single promise and if the Clearing House fails to keep faith I look 
for hell to pop!" 

Nine days after the gate closure W. W. Watterson submitted to the 
Clearing House Association a written statement of valley griev- 
ances and three alternate proposals for settlement: i . Keep 30,000 
acres green, but give damaged property owners $5,300,000 in "rep- 
arations." 2. Buy the entire irrigation district for $12,000,000, 
including reparations. 3. Buy the district at a price set by a disin- 
terested board of arbitration. 

The Water Department then submitted its own version of the 
Owens Valley controversy to the association, answering Watter- 
son's charges paragraph by paragraph. As for the main grievance 
against land purchases, it was pointed out that top prices were 
paid to valley owners without condemnation or compulsion: "If 
the city did wrong in buying, they did wrong in selling." But 
against the claim that the shrinking population had damaged the 
trade of the townspeople, the city had little reasonable defense. 
Its only argument against reparations was a cold statement of 
non-responsibility : 

"Such losses, while very regrettable, are among the hazards 
which all must take in buying property or establishing a business, 
and cannot be the basis of a legal claim for compensation." 

This aloof attitude over the plight of the valley townspeople 
was probably the most ill-considered decision of the water board. 
Its members seemed to believe that because the city could not 
legally be made to pay reparations it was justified in disclaim- 
ing any interest in the valley whose life it had affected root and 

Undoubtedly the idea was born of a distrust of the Watterson 
brothers and a feeling that the issue was a battle of wits between 
them and the water board. Reluctance to concede to these arch- 
enemies made the city officials unreceptive to the idea of any 
compensation. Though the Watterson reparations figure of 
$5,300,000 was certainly too high, the Los Angeles men appar- 
ently made no effort to negotiate an equitable settlement. 


Either because of the arguments of the water board or a fall- 
ing out which developed between Watterson and the chairman 
of the Clearing House Association, that body soon abandoned 
its efforts for a solution. The bitter assumption in the valley was 
that its promise to arbitrate had been given only to gain back 
the aqueduct. 

There remained as an opportunity for settlement the efforts of 
the governor's special agent, State Engineer Wilbur F. McClure, 
who reached the valley on the last day of the spillway seizure. As 
McClure had been a Methodist minister in Owens Valley in the 
early igoos, his appointment as state investigator in the water 
crisis was not considered unfortunate by its citizens. After a 
month of investigation and a meeting with the Los Angeles water 
board, he sent a hundred-page report to Sacramento completely 
endorsing the ranchers' stand. 

"The valley does not desire to be big-brothered," he summa- 
rized, "but go its own way, and insists that if the parental idea 
plan is to be insisted upon, the would-be big brother should be 
willing to pay well for the privilege of exercising such domina- 

But aside from its publicity value McClure's report had little 
concrete effect. Governor Richardson must have believed the crisis 
was over with the closing of the Alabama Gates. So, apparently, 
did the Los Angeles water board, whose chairman is said to have 
exclaimed on hearing of the gate closure, "The publicity stunt 
has failed!" 

Even W. W. Watterson, realizing that in the spillway seizure 
Owens Valley had reached a high tide of unity, afterward chas- 
tised himself for closing the gates prematurely. Never again would 
they have the city at the same disadvantage. 

6: "We Who Are About to Die 9 ' 

The efforts toward negotiation after the gate seizure had now 
failed. Obviously it was time, as Sheriff Collins had feared, for 
"hell to pop!" But before valley leaders could take the initiative, 


circumstances forced the Water Department to make a sudden 
and agreeable change of policy. 

Los Angeles and all of Southern California was in the midst 
of its greatest boom. During the drought of the twenties the city 
found itself engulfed with a flood of Easterners that doubled its 
population to more than 1,000,000. An oil boom in Long Beach 
and a motion picture boom in Hollywood were underwriting the 
Southland's prosperity. New luxury hotels, a Coliseum, a giant 
city hall were rising to make Los Angeles look the part of a 
metropolis. Great new suburbs and cities sprang up as Los Angeles 
moved westward to the sea. 

This was a time for the "reward of approbation" of which 
Mulholland had spoken ; it was a boom that simply would never 
have been without the water of Owens River. Yet the dry 
years had revealed a limit to the growth allowed by the aque- 
duct. Mulholland's search for water caused him to turn his eyes 
four hundred miles eastward to the Colorado River for long- 
range needs. For the immediate future, the city must gain posses- 
sion of water it had already bought in the Bishop area of Owens 
Valley, but which the unrelenting farmers were still diverting 
into their own ditches. 

After visiting Inyo County to investigate land values, Harvey 
Van Norman went before the water board with a new proposi- 

"The only way to settle things up there," he told the commis- 
sioners, "is to buy out the rest of the valley." 

"My God!" cried one of the members. "How much will that 

"Five or six million dollars," was the cool answer. 

Such a figure was far above any former water investment. It 
meant a tacit admission of past mistakes and a partial concession 
to the proposal of the Watterson group. But W. B. Mathews 
joined Van Norman in convincing the board that such a move 
was the only means of gaining security at the source of the city's 
water. Early in 1925 the commissioners announced they were 
ready to buy all land tributary to the Owens River, leaving no 
isolated pieces. 

The proposal caught the valley people by surprise. For the 


first time the city had agreed to one of their major points of con- 
tention. It meant that bargaining between valley sellers and city 
buyers would be conducted on an equal basis and not on city 
terms. But it also meant that the ranchers must abandon the 
reparations cause of the townspeople. Theirs had been made a 
long and separate struggle by the water board's stout refusal to 
pay damages. 

Wilfred Watterson himself was in Los Angeles a few days after 
the board's announcement, offering to sell the 1 2OO-acre Watter- 
son ranch and twenty-two others under the Bishop Creek Ditch. 
Soon a price of $700,000 was agreed upon and the transaction 
closed. When it was announced in Bishop on March 7, 1925, val- 
ley people were astounded that the Wattersons were selling in- 
dependently of the powerful irrigation district "pool." Walter 
Young, a leading figure in the valley group and a close friend 
of the Wattersons, encountered Wilfred on the streets of Bishop 
and asked for an explanation. 

"Why is it you're selling when you're asking everybody else 
to hang on?" 

"We have to get money to carry on the valley," was the bank- 
er's reply. 

Young dropped the matter, but wondered why the Wattersons 
needed money when mortgages were being paid off regularly by 
individual ranchers selling to the city. 

Evidently the brothers felt the tension their move had created. 
On the night the sale was announced, Watterson met with Karl 
Keough and the owners of the Owens River Canal last of the 
big ditches and after explaining his position, secured their 
unanimous consent to the sale. A few days later Wilfred and 
Mark Watterson published an open letter in Bishop newspapers 
justifying the deal, and were thus able to gloss over their act 
without losing the valley leadership. 

By the end of March the "majority" farmers of Bishop Creek 
Ditch sold their lands as well, and the entire holding fell to the 
city. So also did control of the irrigation district, for Los Angeles 
gained the third director out of a total governing board of five. 
But the main acquisition was more than 100 second-feet of water 
from a system that lay below the head gate of the Owens River 
Canal, and hence was safe from diversion by the last main ditch 


still holding up the city's full use of its purchased water rights. 

"We anticipate joy in San Fernando Valley," wrote Harry 
Glasscock with sarcasm, "when they hear that the long-promised 
relief is so much nearer." 

Once again Owens Valley was watching the spectacle of 
migrating families, vacant farmhouses, and neglected fields. 
Many of the Bishop Creekers moved across the Sierras to San 
Joaquin Valley, answering advertisements placed in Inyo news- 
papers by eager Central Valley real estate men. A majority of the 
sellers stayed in the valley because of the city's policy of leasing 
back land minus the water rights. Others, like the Wattersons, 
still had holdings in the Owens River Canal or other ditches. 
But the following year both voting registrations and school en- 
rollment showed that a quarter of the Bishop area population 
had left in the four years of city land purchases. 

For the merchants of Bishop the new emigration meant another 
drop in business and another raise in reparations demands. In 
four years of city land buying, several Bishop stores had lost a 
third of their trade, while some of those dealing in farm supplies 
had suffered worse reverses. Such concerns as gas stations and 
restaurants enjoyed a growing tourist business from Los Angeles, 
but this offered little comfort for the majority of storekeepers, 
who depended on community customers. 

By the spring of 1 925 a valley committee was lobbying at Sacra- 
mento for a reparations law which would remove the objections 
of Los Angeles officials that there was no legal basis for damage 
payments. The bill was signed into law on May i, making cities 
which took water out of its drainage basin liable for damages 
to business or property values. Valley people then formed a rep- 
arations association and within a few months compiled more 
than $2,270,000 in compensation claims for presentation to the 
water board. 

At the same time a renewal of the valley struggle was also 
apparent when city officials turned to buy the Owens River 
Canal. They found its owners demanding a figure considerably 
advanced over prices paid for Bishop Creek lands. The stalemate 
might have remained peaceful, however, if there had not been 
an evident attitude among some of the farmers that the city was 
obliged to meet their figure. Ed Leahey, the city's representative 


in Owens Valley, soon became aware that the radical leadership 
of the Klan group was still in control. 

Since the aqueduct seizure he had employed a corps of Pinker- 
ton detectives in the valley to keep him informed of extremist 
movements. These "gumshoes," as they were derisively called 
by the people, conducted a campaign of eavesdropping under 
windows, shadowing suspected persons, and other melodramatic 
activities which served mainly to amuse valley citizens. More 
effective were several local parties who were in touch with the 
radical element and informed city men of its movements. 

On July 31, 1925, a woman in Bishop who had been reporting 
to Los Angeles agents gave the warning that a fresh plot was 
being made to dynamite the aqueduct. A note was intercepted 
between two elements of the radical group, revealing that the 
blow was aimed at the outlet at Haiwee Reservoir. Such a calam- 
ity would disrupt the city's entire water supply. 

Ed Leahey quickly notified the Water Department, and within 
a matter of hours several machine guns from the Los Angeles 
police force were rushed across the Mojave Desert to the crest 
of the Haiwee Dam. Right behind them came the usual carload 
of newspaper reporters ready for the fireworks. Leahey managed 
to send a grim note to the radical leaders back through the same 
channel his operators had interrupted: 

"It would be a terrible situation if you sent men with rifles 
to Haiwee, because I've got three machine guns there." 

Evidently the warning and the defense were enough to bring 
a hurried change of plans. When the Los Angeles newsmen pulled 
into Lone Pine they met Harry Glasscock on the main street and 
asked him what was supposed to happen at Haiwee. 

"No, there isn't anything doing around there," Glasscock re- 
plied cautiously. "Besides, they've got a lot of guns down there!" 

Most Angelenos never knew how narrowly their water supply 
had been saved from serious disruption. "As far as the people 
here were concerned," Glasscock's paper said innocently, "they 
had not even heard of any trouble, but it appears that W. B. 
Mathews and others ... of the City are undergoing a case of 
'nerves' that got the best of some of them. . . ." 

For several months afterward the valley situation smoldered 
while the reparations committees finished compiling claims and 


the Owens River Canal ranchers awaited further negotiation. To 
reach a figure that might be considered fair, the Water Depart- 
ment got an appraisal on remaining property in the Bishop area 
from three well-respected Inyo officials, two of them experienced 
tax assessors. Their detailed figures, announced early in Decem- 
ber 1925, were accepted by a West Bishop "pool" but turned 
down by the Owens River Canal, or "Keough pool." 

The talks that followed between the canal ranchers and two 
city negotiators, Ed Leahey and H. A. Van Norman, were 
marked by rising bitterness. In a meeting early in April 1926, 
with only $141,000 separating the city offer from the $2,500,000 
demanded by the canal owners, the tense negotiations suddenly 
gave way to angry quarreling. Heated words passed between the 
Watterson brothers and one of the city men, who threatened that 
the Water Department would open a rival bank in Bishop. 

In a moment the other representative stepped between them 
to prevent an exchange of blows. Negotiation was ended and 
the opponents departed with the ragged edge of discord exposed 
once more. 

On the night of April 3 the people of Bishop were awakened 
by a rattling of windows that announced another dynamiting. A 
mile west of town on the former Watterson ranch a city water 
well had been "shot" with only minor damage. A resolve to do 
the job right must have motivated a more successful blast the 
next night at another well, where the shaft house was blown into 
small bits. 

The attack was promptly interpreted by the Owens Valley 
Herald as another "notice" to Los Angeles agents. Glasscock 
could not resist adding that there still existed the probability of 
"bloodshed at any time if the city's officials get too arrogant." 

In the following weeks the fighting editor stepped up his at- 
tacks to correspond with the reopening of hostilities. On April 2 1 
he claimed that the city was "forcing people from their homes 
with veiled threats of ruin, left-handed bribery, and in fact using 
every means possible to crush them down." Two days later the 
water board, exasperated at his continued attacks, debated for 
several hours whether to have him prosecuted on charges of 
criminal libel. When Glasscock heard of it he stormed down to 
Los Angeles and issued an open letter to the water commission- 


ers with copies to leading California newspapers challenging 
them to try him for libel. 

"They are afraid to carry out their threat to have me arrested," 
cried Glasscock, claiming that the board feared the world would 
know the facts in Owens Valley. "I defy them!" 

Defiance was not confined to Harry Glasscock. On the night 
of May 1 2 another heavy blast was fired in the side of the aque- 
duct just below the Alabama Gates, where a hole some ten feet 
in diameter was blown in the cement wall. Los Angeles repair- 
men and detectives rushed to the scene and within twenty-four 
hours the wound was repaired. To the Inyo Register came a 
telegram from the valley's reparations committee, then in nego- 
tiation with officials in Los Angeles: 

"Interest of valley seriously menaced by acts of violence. Hope 
hotheads can be persuaded to desist." 

"These repeated occurrences," added editor Willie Chalfant, 
"do more harm to the valley than to the city." 

The admonitions were apparently effective, for the dynamit- 
ings were suspended for the rest of 1926. But the valley repara- 
tionists were still unable to make headway with Los Angeles 
water officials. In December they were told that any action by 
the city would have to follow a test case to determine the consti- 
tutionality of the reparations law. 

A suit for damages should then have been brought by a valley 
claimant. The Wattersons, who were asking about $170,000 in 
compensation, were the logical ones to take such a lead. But, like 
most valley men, they claimed to be afraid of long-drawn litiga- 
tion, and continued to press for a board of arbitrators. To such a 
proposal the city would not submit, and the rankling problem 
dragged on unsolved. 

By early 1927 the long deadlock on both reparations and the 
Keough pool caused farmers and townsfolk to join interests once 
more. From the upper valley came unmistakable signs that all 
forces were being summoned for a final effort to bring the city 
water commissioners to terms. Throughout March 1927 a series 
of rallies, steered by Mark Watterson, Karl Keough, Harry 
Glasscock, and other leaders, was held throughout the valley. At 
the final mass meeting in Bishop one speaker announced for the 
benefit of the city's agents that the organization now being 


formed was "the most radical group the country had ever had." 

Feeling ran so high that a few days later on the main street of 
Big Pine a city employee called the speaker to account for his 
remarks and precipitated a two-man battle. It was said that the 
"radical" was leading on points at first, but that the city man 
was holding him by the hair and pounding his head when the 
local deputy sheriff separated them. 

By the time the formation of the new "Owens Valley Property 
Owners Protective Association" was announced it was plain that 
a headlong offensive was looming against Los Angeles. Calling 
the movement "The Last Stand" of the valley, Harry Glasscock's 
paper warned that "what it has in store" for the city's represent- 
atives "is yet to be seen. . . . This is the last fight that will ever 
be made by the people of Owens Valley," he announced dramati- 

On March 19, 1927, the opening publicity shot of the cam- 
paign was fired with all of California as a target. Full-page adver- 
tisements had been placed in leading newspapers throughout the 
state, describing the valley's struggle under the provocative head- 
ing, "We Who Are About to Die." 

The real direction of the drive became apparent when the 
editor of the Sacramento Union was welcomed to Inyo County 
for a personal investigation late in March. After conferring with 
local men and viewing some of the farm communities affected by 
city purchase, he returned to write a series of articles against Los 
Angeles that made impressive reading for legislators at the state 
capital. They were printed in pamphlet form by the valley's 
Protective Association and mailed by the thousands to citizens 
throughout California. 

Action had, in fact, already opened in the legislature. A reso- 
lution had been introduced in the Assembly, condemning Los 
Angeles for its policy and demanding that the city restore the 
valley or buy it all. In mid-April a committee of assemblymen 
visited Inyo County to inspect conditions at first hand. After 
being shown through the valley by a Bishop delegation, they re- 
turned with a scorching report of local conditions. On April 19 
several members of the Water Department, having requested a 
hearing of their own case, were questioned in Sacramento by the 
Assembly committee. W. W. Watterson was also present with a 


delegation to emphasize the valley viewpoint, and the session 
waxed hot with charges and countercharges. 

W. B. Mathews, ordinarily a model of self-possession, grew so 
exasperated under cross-questioning that he made a defiant but 
ill-considered admission : Los Angeles would get water any place 
it was available, he said, even in San Joaquin Valley. 

Next morning the Los Angeles group broke off its sessions with 
the committee, which then secured passage of the Assembly reso- 
lution condemning the city's course in Owens Valley as "against 
the best interests of the state of California." The bill was killed 
in a Senate committee, but the valley delegation was able to 
return with its quest for publicity satisfied. Newspapers up and 
down the state had not failed to catch the story of the Assembly's 
condemnation. With the offensive succeeding according to plan, 
Mark Watterson was voicing optimism by early April. 

"I feel we have the city on the defensive," he wrote to one 
newspaperman, "and we must strike hard and often now and not 
give them time to recover themselves." 

The realization that they faced a showdown in the battle for 
Owens River caused city officials to make a stern decision. The 
only way to end the campaign was to subdue the power of its 
financial source the Watterson banks. They looked upon the 
struggle, not as one between city and valley, but between them- 
selves, as public servants responsible for a city's water supply, and 
a group of opportunists entrenched at the source of that water. 

Ed Leahey first went to officers of the Bank of America and 
asked if they could be interested in an Owens Valley branch. 
When they assented he suggested further that the Wattersons 
should first be approached for an outright sale, "just so they 
won't say we're freezing 'em out." Leahey then opened negotia- 
tions with the Bishop bankers through a third party, who would 
not reveal the identity of his clients. He found the brothers in an 
awkward position. They wanted to sell out but were reluctant 
to disclose the chaotic condition of their Inyo County Bank. 

At length the negotiator reported to Leahey and asked if he 
would also take the Watterson business enterprises and $700,000 
in notes. The city official then learned that the brothers had 
siphoned bank money into their private concerns the National 
Soda Works at Keeler, the tungsten mine on Mount Tom, and 

other enterprises without accounting for its transfer. Immedi- 
ately he pressed the negotiations further in an attempt to get a 
commitment from the bankers. The moment they agreed to sell, 
as Leahey put it, "they'll be saying 'good morning 5 to the judge." 

The Wattersons soon ended the discussions, possibly with the 
suspicion that the city was involved. But Leahey was now aware 
of their weakness. He conferred with Bank of America men once 
more, and steps were taken to get a state charter for a branch in 
Owens Valley. It was agreed that application should be made 
by a substantial group of valley men, who would be able to ex- 
plain the local situation to the banking commissioner and to jus- 
tify a new financial house in Inyo County. 

Ready to join the venture were five valley men antagonistic to 
the Wattersons, including their uncle, George Watterson. Late 
in March 1927 they journeyed to Sacramento and laid their ap- 
plication before the California banking commissioner, Will C. 

But W. W. Watterson and several valley supporters appeared 
at the hearing in full force, stoutly denying charges against the 
financial integrity of the existing banks. Commissioner Woods 
tentatively refused to grant the charter. 

Watterson returned to Inyo with a temporary victory but with 
the shadow of a rival bank still threatening his financial control. 
Evidently he determined that this challenge would have to be 
met with severe action. 

One of the five bank charter applicants was George Warren, 
the Big Pine rancher who had clashed more than once with the 
Bishop group. Early in April word passed through the valley 
that the Protective Association intended to wait upon Warren 
and demand his departure. At least one of the members was 
notified by W. W. Watterson himself. On the morning of April 
12 Walter Young, a close friend of the Watterson brothers, was 
stopped by Wilfred at the door of the Inyo County Bank. 

"A bunch of the boys are going down and run George Warren 
out of the country," he confided, and asked if Young would join 

The rancher wanted to know if the banker himself would be 

"No," answered Watterson, "it wouldn't do for me to go." 


Walter Young agreed that he would "be there"; later that 
morning at a hill two miles below Bishop he joined a group of 
forty men, including Harry Glasscock, Karl Keough, and repre- 
sentatives from every community in the valley. There was no 
mention of Warren's connection with the bank application, but 
it was said that he was "interfering with plans for a settlement 
with the city" and must be made to leave the valley. 

Two men acquainted with Warren were sent to bring him 
from his house just north of Big Pine. There the stolid ranchman 
refused to go with them, but agreed to receive a seven-man com- 
mittee at his home. Early in the afternoon the specified group 
reached Warren's place and was invited into the house. From 
his back yard a spokesman for the delegation grumbled that they 
could say everything right there. 

"Since you refused to meet with us all," he was told, "your 
orders are to get out of the county inside of forty-eight hours." 

Warren then asked what he had done but was given no expla- 
nation beyond that of "interfering with reparations plans." As the 
rancher began to argue his position the men turned to leave. 

"Am I to understand," he called, "that I have to either get 
out of the county inside of forty-eight hours or prepare to defend 

There was no answer; the man's defiant spirit flared. 

"If you've just come to tell me to leave without saying why," 
Warren shouted, "you can go back and tell your bunch to go 
plumb to hell I'm not going anywhere!" 

The declaration was provocative enough, but the men stalked 
out to their car and allowed their ultimatum to stand. Late in 
the afternoon of the fourteenth, after Warren's allotted time had 
expired, a string of cars left Bishop and paraded down the high- 
way along the Sierra foothills. Just north of Big Pine they drew 
up at George Warren's house, intent on making good their threat. 

But from Warren's garage, from the rocky hill above his ranch 
house, more than twenty Big Piners looked out upon the inter- 
lopers with poised rifles. Inside the house Warren was trying to 
comfort his plucky wife, but at the same time stood ready to 
defend his position. 

The Bishop men surveyed the scene but made no hostile move. 
Conferences were held behind the cars, and at length they 


wheeled about and headed northward. Warren and his friends 
watched them go in jubilation. 

Next night, and for several thereafter, a string of headlights 
moving south from Bishop warned the defenders of another visit. 
But each time the mob's determination was frustrated by the 
commanding position of those rifle barrels. 

Los Angeles newspapers picked up the story when the siege was 
several days old. Quickly the news of this latest outbreak of law- 
lessness reached the state legislature in Sacramento, where 
friends of the valley were trying to press through the resolution 
condemning Los Angeles. From their chief exponent in the As- 
sembly came a hurried telegram to officers of the Valley Pro- 
tective Association: 

"Absolutely demand any semblance of disorder in Owens Val- 
ley stop. This legislature should not be embarrassed. I am working 
hard for favorable settlement and insist drastic actions hinder 
your cause." 

After that the night visitations ceased. Violent threats were 
still heard through the upper valley, for the group could not 
reconcile itself to an embarrassing defiance of orders. But the 
siege at last was lifted and a "Battle of Big Pine" averted. War- 
ren's guards were reduced to a skeleton force; the rancher had 
made good his promise that he was "not going anywhere." 

But already the rush of events was making the Big Pine affair 
merely a preliminary skirmish in a full-scale conflict. In March 
the Los Angeles Water Department had suddenly decided to set 
a deadline for land purchases. Ed Leahey knew the continuing 
negotiations with Owens River Canal was all that had preserved 
peace in the valley. 

"If you do that," he warned, "they'll start dynamiting again." 

But on March 23 advertisements in the Bishop papers notified 
valley residents that the water board would buy all land offered 
at appraisal prices until May I, 1927, "and not thereafter." The 
deadline was pointedly ignored in Owens Valley. Five days after 
its expiration the water commissioners announced a final denial 
of the townspeople's reparations claims. Valley wrath was now 

Early in May the ominous signs of violence were no longer 
concealed. Lack of punishment for previous assaults, and a sort 


of frontier bravado which still prevailed among many men in this 
mountainbound valley, brought the return of lawlessness. Glass- 
cock's Owens Valley Herald solemnly declared that the aqueduct 
"would run red with human blood before this trouble was set- 
tled." Later testimony and recollections have indicated that the 
Watterson bankers were able to use their financial influence in 
bringing a final outbreak of dynamitings. A valley citizen named 
Perry Sexton, whose testimony may or may not be credited, told 
of owing a note to the Inyo Bank and of stating to Mark Watter- 
son that he could not pay it until the city sent him some money 
he had claimed. Mark observed that Los Angeles would never 
settle with him. 

"If they don't pay me," confided Sexton, "I'll shut the water 
off for them at the intake." 

"If you do that, Perry," answered Watterson, "we'll give you 
all the time you want on your note." 

Meanwhile night meetings in the open fields near Bishop were 
resumed once more. On May 1 1 a valley rancher arrived at the 
Hercules Powder plant at Martinez, California, and bought eight 
cases of blasting gelatin enough to carry on a prolonged attack 
against the aqueduct. A final letter was sent by the Owens Valley 
Protective Association to Los Angeles officials and civic organiza- 
tions, charging that a continuation of the water board's policy 
would "inflame real American citizens to violence," and asking 
them to reply whether they would "take definite action. Should 
the few remaining property owners here be forced to the break- 
ing point we shudder at the possible results." 

No answer had been received in about two weeks. One of 
Leahey's informers in Bishop tried to warn him of an aqueduct 
attack, but for fear of being caught he delayed making the con- 
tact until it was too late. 

In the early morning darkness of May 27, 1927, ten armed 
men drove into the canyon at No Name siphon, one of the largest 
pipe sections on the aqueduct, ten miles south of Little Lake. 
Descending on the nearby repair house, they surprised the two 
aqueduct watchmen. 

"We'll take you for a walk," the leader snapped. "There's 
going to be a dynamiting here." 

While four of the intruders marched the guards up the canyon 


out of blasting range, the other six went about their work with 
deadly efficiency. A string of explosives was wrapped about the 
great tube at its lowest point and a waterproof explosive con- 
tainer with a lighted fuse was dropped into the roaring aqueduct 
stream at the north entrance of the pipe. 

A few moments later, with a thunderous blast, the entire bot- 
tom section of No Name siphon ripped into space. The vibrating 
canyon was showered with rocks, steel, and water. Out of the 
bleeding trunk of the north pipe the aqueduct's full flow gushed 
with such speed that the steel collapsed into the vacuum like a 
punctured tire tube. 

The dynamiters had at last accomplished a major piece of 
destruction on the Los Angeles aqueduct. Without delay they 
hurried to their cars and drove northward while almost 400 
second-feet of water roared into the Mojave Desert. 

As soon as the alarm was telephoned to Haiwee Dam the flow 
was shut off with a total loss of about 500 acre-feet. Harvey Van 
Norman, stopping at Lone Pine at the time, hurried down to No 
Name siphon and before nightfall on the following day had 150 
men working on repairs and an order given to a Los Angeles steel 
company for some 450 feet of new pipe. Up from Los Angeles 
came W. B. Mathews and William Mulholland, who bitterly re- 
plied to press queries that he could not comment on the dyna- 
miting "without using unprintable words." 

Before the Water Department had time to recover from the 
No Name "shot," another blast the following night shattered a 
6o-foot pipe section leading to the city's power plant on Big Pine 
Creek. From the valley below a repair crew was immediately dis- 
patched. While 600 reservists were assembled at the central police 
station in Los Angeles, a detachment of detectives drove north- 
ward armed with Winchesters and tommy guns. Their orders 
were to "shoot to kill" anyone loitering near the aqueduct. 

Up and down the valley the names of the dynamiters were 
apparently as well known as they were well guarded by the popu- 
lation. Some of the conspirators made little effort to conceal their 
participation from their neighbors. One boasted, "We blew up 
the aqueduct again," and added that they "would continue to 
blow it up until the city came to terms." 

After a week of silence the dynamiters moved out once more 


on the night of June 4. According to his later testimony, Perry 
Sexton was driven from Bishop to a section of the aqueduct op- 
posite Owens Lake near Cottonwood Power House, where he was 
dropped off with a gunny sack of blasting gelatin. While a guard 
paced along the edge above him he placed a charge in a drainage 
tunnel under the conduit; after waiting two hours, he ignited the 
fuse and stumbled back to the highway to be picked up by an- 
other car. 

The explosion shook every home and building at the power 
plant. Scarcely had the dust cloud settled when a crew of city 
employees came running to the break. At least a hundred and 
fifty feet of conduit wall had been blown apart, and the water 
was already spilling crazily down the hillside. Word was flashed 
to the Alabama spillway, and the gates were opened to drain the 
ditch and allow repairs. 

This time the Water Department prepared for open warfare. 
Some fifty sawed-off shotguns and rifles, with ammunition, were 
bought for shipment to valley employees. On the night of June 10 
a special Southern Pacific train rattled out of Los Angeles north- 
ward with two coaches and a baggage car loaded with a hundred 
armed aqueduct guards mostly World War I veterans. 

Their coming was signalized the following night by another 
blast in the side of the aqueduct just below Lone Pine an act 
which brought new reinforcements hurrying up from Los An- 
geles. The lower valley along the line of the conduit was virtu- 
ally thrown under martial law. While searchlights mounted along 
the ditch scanned the highway at night for suspicious movements, 
the guards flagged down automobiles and inspected their occu- 
pants by flashlight. From Bishop came the threat via Glasscock's 
paper that "it is more than likely that some real cold lead 
will be pumped into them some night as a way of warning 
them. . . ." 

Already the upper valley was rumored to be arming for battle. 
Nearly sixty Winchester carbines were shipped from Los Angeles 
wholesalers to the Watterson brothers' hardware store in Bishop, 
where they were hurriedly passed across the counter to willing 
hands. When the Los Angeles Times called the Bishop store and 
asked what they would do with the guns a Watterson employee 
growled back, "Use them, of course!" 


"There isn't any particular demand for rifles at this season of 
the year, is there?" pressed the inquirer. 

"You'd think so if you were up here," was the grim reply. 

But actual violence was still confined to a weekly "jolt in the 
ribs" of the aqueduct. On June 1 9 a small explosion knocked out 
sixteen feet of conduit about three miles below Lone Pine in the 
lower end of the Alabama Hills. Five evenings later another 
tremor shook the lower valley and a squad of city guards went 
scurrying southward, followed by part of the eager population of 
Lone Pine. Near the same spot the dynamiters had attempted to 
block the ditch by blasting loose a giant boulder perched on the 
hillside above; tons of rock and dirt were lifted skyward and 
deposited in the cement conduit, but the water continued to flow 
onward. One of the guards came within a hundred feet of being 
engulfed by the avalanche. The boulder itself was shaken loose 
but failed to reach the aqueduct. 

"Through some miscarriage of justice," as Glasscock boldly de- 
scribed the event, "it did little harm. We hope the boys will do 
better next time, as it is a shame to go to all the trouble of setting 
off a lot of dynamite . . . and then have the work for nothing." 

But the main purpose of the dynamitings that of gaining 
publicity for the valley's cause was succeeding well enough. The 
story of this all-out battle in California's water war was carried 
in newspapers and magazines across the nation; the No Name 
blast even made the front page of the Parisian Le Temps. 
Throughout California, of course, the drama was covered and 
editorialized on in most newspapers. Though they deplored the 
resort to violence, they generally condemned the city for its 

The San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that if Los Angeles 
officials claimed the water was worth more in Southern California 
they should have reimbursed the valley for its full value. "The 
city paid only a small part of that and left the rest of the value 
of the Valley to wither and die." Even the Los Angeles Times, 
agreeing that "the city has made mistakes," admitted a justifiable 
grievance on the part of valley merchants, "who have seen their 
customers, one after another, sell out and move away. . . ." 

At the same time the ranchers themselves were pushing the 
campaign with direct appeals. They ran a large advertisement 


describing their plight in the Los Angeles Record, which was 
already giving their cause plenty of publicity in articles and car- 
toons on "Old Bill's Aqua-Duck." A self-appointed Los Angeles 
reformer named Andrae B. Nordskog championed the valley cause 
in lectures before women's and service clubs, in talks with the 
mayor and state officials, and in the columns of his weekly news- 
paper, the Gridiron. For this supposedly altruistic crusade he was 
to receive $3500 from the Wattersons, of which $2000 was actu- 
ally sent him. 

By the end of June Governor G. G. Young, armed with a first- 
hand report on the Owens Valley situation, visited Los Angeles 
to seek out a settlement of the water war. After conferring with 
city officials, he returned to Sacramento and invited a delegation 
of valley men to a meeting there on July i. What their people 
should do, he advised, was to open a test suit in court to deter- 
mine the constitutionality of the reparations law. 

For two weeks the dynamitings were suspended along the aque- 
duct; valley committees conferred on the governor's suggestion 
and on July 14 sent a reply rejecting it as one that "would be very 
welcome to the Water and Power Board and for that reason is 
looked upon with fear and distrust by our people." 

Next night a blast one mile south of Lone Pine shook the town, 
broke out a section of the aqueduct wall, and sank a repair barge. 
Ninety minutes after city guards had rushed down to the spot, 
another heavy report was heard four miles north of Independ- 
ence. A well-placed charge had blown out a timbered side gate, 
opened sixty feet of the conduit wall, and released the full aque- 
duct flow until the main intake gates were closed at the Owens 
River. The dynamiters had resumed action once more with a 
double-barreled charge. 

The continued attacks under the very noses of the Los Angeles 
guards brought mounting tension and jittery nerves in the lower 
valley. When one patrolman saw a mysterious object floating 
down the stream he shouted a warning, leaped off the embank- 
ment, and promptly ran into a barbed-wire fence. Cooler exami- 
nation showed the thing to be an empty kerosene can and gave 
valley citizens a chuckle at the city's expense. 

One night another guard had turned an aqueduct searchlight 
on a car moving along the highway when the driver abruptly 


stopped and climbed out. It proved to be Fred Eaton's son 
Harold, traveling from Los Angeles to his Long Valley ranch. 

"Turn off that light!" he hollered. 

The blinding spot continued to frame him. Eaton took his 
revolver from the car and, drawing a bead on the searchlight, 
fired two shots. He missed the lamp, but the light was promptly 
extinguished. The rancher drove on with the dubious distinction 
of having fired the only known shots in the Owens Valley war. 

Through the early summer of 1927 the outdoor sport of "shoot- 
ing the duck" was a leading occupation and a main topic of 
conversation in Owens Valley. On August 3, Harry Glasscock 
spoke darkly of a time "when many will give up their lives in 
order to make their rights regarded," and expressed the possi- 
bility that "there will be more bloodshed than anyone looks for 
at the present time." Even Willie A. Chalfant, although he op- 
posed the dynamitings in his Inyo Register, declared, "Only vio- 
lence would have called our plight to the attention of the state." 

Although lawlessness, together with the publicity it engen- 
dered, had come to be the only weapon of the valley extremists, 
it made their cause vulnerable to a counterattack from Los 
Angeles officials. With the aqueduct under fire and the water 
supply threatened, city men were fighting back with more than 
armed guards. It was the series of dynamitings that eventually 
gave Ed Leahey the advantage he needed in his struggle with the 
Watterson bankers. Securing a financial statement of their outside 
business firm, Wattersons Incorporated, he discovered a number 
of unspecified money disbursements to Harry Glasscock and 
other leaders in the water war. On August 2 he accompanied 
W. B. Mathews to Sacramento and talked with the state corpora- 
tion commissioner. 

"We have reason to believe," Leahey reported solemnly, "that 
corporate funds are being used for dynamiting the aqueduct." 

The startled commissioner looked at them in amazement. 

"Would you repeat that?" 

Leahey made the charge again, and added details on the con- 
dition of the Watterson finances. 

"I suggest you send an examiner over there to look at the 
situation in those banks." 

That night, at the request of the corporation commissioner, 


Will Woods of the state banking office put an investigator on the 
train for Owens Valley. When he arrived at the Inyo County 
Bank on August 3 two months before his expected visit Wil- 
fred Watterson had reason to turn white with shock. 

Giving his brother Mark orders to close the bank next day, 
Wilfred left Bishop immediately for Los Angeles. There he sought 
out the bankers with whom he was on friendly terms and pleaded 
for a substantial loan to meet his crisis. One of them went to the 
water board and suggested that at least $200,000 would have to 
be lent to the Watterson banks. He found that such a proposition 
was scarcely welcome in that quarter. 

Hoping that loans might come from Los Angeles banks in time 
to save him, Watterson withdrew reserve funds from personal 
safety-deposit boxes in the city and headed back for Owens 

At noon of the fourth the five Watterson banks in Inyo County 
were closed. At the doors of each, groups of citizens gathered to 
read a curt notice, signed by the Wattersons: 

We find it necessary to close our banks in the Owens Valley. This 
result has been brought about by the past four years of destructive 
work carried on by the city of Los Angeles. 

Owens Valley was stunned. The Watterson brothers had been 
the very pillars of Inyo County, had held the complete confidence 
and friendship of almost every resident. The closure of their 
banks was at first believed to be only a temporary difficulty, 
though Chalfant's Register called it "the hardest blow that the 
valley has received directly or indirectly from the work of Los 

City Water Department officials were furious at the Watter- 
sons' attempt to blame them for the bank debacle. It was labeled 
as "a last frantic falsehood" by the Los Angeles Times. 

Meanwhile the examiners were checking the books and dis- 
covering monumental shortages. In the vault there was more 
than $33,000 cash missing. A superficial perusal of the books 
showed some $190,000 in account with the Wells Fargo Bank of 
San Francisco, but a check with that institution showed it had 
received none of the amount. 

Mark Watterson, left in charge of the bank in Wilfred's ab- 


sence, was consumed with despondency. On the afternoon of the 
fourth he left Bishop and headed up Pine Canyon, taking refuge 
at the Watterson tungsten mine on the side of Mount Tom. 
There he rested alone, trying to collect his thoughts and foresee 
some future beyond the calamity that had overtaken them. But 
that evening when Wilfred returned, he sent his son and Walter 
Young, Mark's lifelong friend, up to the mine; they encouraged 
him enough to secure his return. 

On the same day Banking Commissioner Woods reached 
Bishop after being notified of the shortages by his examiners. In 
a meeting at the Inyo County Bank that night the two brothers 
were brought to account by the banking officials and District 
Attorney Jess Hession. What, in particular, asked the examiners, 
had happened to the $33,000 cash shortage? 

"We took that money," Wilfred answered, "and we used it for 
our own personal obligations." 

"That's right," agreed Mark. 

One of the state men asked about the bonds which depositors 
had placed with the bank for safekeeping. 

"Well," admitted Wilfred, "we had to use some of those too." 

But though Watterson was at bay he was not yet beaten. All 
his persuasive powers were mustered to convince Woods that dis- 
aster could be averted if he would take his men out of the bank 
and give it a chance to make up the shortages. The banking 
commissioner relented but gave the brothers only five days. When 
the hoped-for loans from Los Angeles had not arrived by August 
10, Woods made formal charges of embezzlement. The two 
brothers were arrested and released on $25,000 bail each, which 
was put up by several Bishop friends. 

Meanwhile some forty upper-valley men met near Bishop and 
determined to raise the shortage money among Inyo citizens. So 
great was public confidence in the bankers that nearly $ i ,000,000 
was pledged by valley people within two days. One Lone Pine 
woman offered to deed over her unencumbered ranch property if 
it would help in the emergency. Superior Judge William Dehy 
wrote up from Independence that he had a few bonds and securi- 
ties which the brothers were welcome to use. 

In a series of meetings the Wattersons explained their actions 
to the people, claiming that the city's invasion of the upper valley 


in 1923 had forced them to assume leadership in the community; 
that the bank funds had been channeled into mining and other 
Watterson enterprises to make them replace the loss of farming 
as a valley industry. 

"We stood by you," said Wilfred, "and we have been forced 
to be a sacrifice." 

But discoveries still being made by the banking examiners 
showed an enormity in embezzlement that could scarcely be laid 
to actions of the city. While the other Watterson branches were 
in good condition, a total of $2,300,000 was missing from the 
Inyo County Bank in Bishop and the Watterson corporations. 
When it was revealed that securities placed in safekeeping by 
trusting friends had been sold, that many mortgages and loans 
paid off by thrifty farmers had never been canceled and were 
still on the books, that at least two biennial banking reports had 
been falsified to cover thefts, a terrible awakening swept over the 
valley. The total loss of more than $400,000 in irrigation district 
bonds added strength to the belief that, instead of their losses 
being caused by the water struggle, it was the Wattersons' des- 
perate need of money which had motivated many of their actions 
in that struggle. 

Not the least shocked was Harry Glasscock, whose newspaper 
had been devoted to the cause led by the Wattersons. His ex- 
penditures, including trips to Sacramento and Los Angeles in the 
water cause, had been partly paid with Watterson drafts; for 
these he had signed notes on his presses and equipment merely 
as a formality, as the Wattersons had told him. But when the 
bank went down his notes were on the books and his entire 
business was in jeopardy. 

Disillusioned by the men he had championed, Glasscock left 
his office and went on one of his periodic drinking sprees for 
several weeks while his employees turned out the Owens Valley 
Herald. When at last he reappeared in charge of the paper, he 
ran an editorial on August 31, relinquishing the stand he had 
made for years in support of the Wattersons. He would never, 
wrote Glasscock, "make excuses or apologies for people who have 
violated the confidence" of Inyo citizens; "we cannot longer, 
under the circumstances, ask the people of Owens Valley to con- 
tinue under their past leadership." 

Before the year's end his equipment had been attached by the 
bank's assignees and his paper was defunct. A few months later, 
while staying in a Los Angeles hotel, the beaten crusader was 
overcome with despondency. After telling a fellow newspaper- 
man over the phone that he was "going on the great adventure," 
Harry Glasscock took a fatal dose of poison. 

Most tragic effect of the debacle was the almost complete 
financial prostration of the valley's people. All business had been 
transacted through these five banks, and their closure had left 
merchants and customers alike with nothing but small change on 
hand. Lifetime savings of the people in many cases the entire 
payment gained from the city for the sale of homes and ranches 
had been wiped out. Practically isolated by mountains from the 
rest of California, the valley found its trade paralyzed for lack of 
currency. Los Angeles water employees were paid a month in 
advance to bring some relief, but it was impossible to prevent one 
business after another from closing its doors. 

By mid-September a Bakersfield bank opened branches in the 
valley and helped to relieve the stagnation. At the same time the 
charter for the Owens Valley Bank sought by the city's agents 
was granted by the state ; a few months later the Bank of America 
used it to open a valley branch. But the new banking facilities 
could never compensate for the loss of fortune which nearly every 
resident suffered. 

The trial of the Wattersons opened in Independence early in 
November, with a crowd of solemn valley people filling the court- 
room. District Attorney Hession, acting in the painful role of 
prosecutor of lifetime friends, introduced his evidence of short- 
ages with methodical repetition, constructing an undeniable case. 
The only defense of the Wattersons, as stated in their own testi- 
mony, was that the money had been taken as loans which they 
had intended to pay back. But Hession pointed to the false credit 
with Wells Fargo that had been used to cover up shortages: 
"Now, if that isn't stealing ... I don't know what it is." 

The full impact of the tragedy was driven home by Hession in 
his final jury address on November n, 1927: "It is their neigh- 
bors," he reminded the court, "men and women whose confidence 
they won, whose faith was unbounded, who are the victims of 
these men." Before he had finished the prosecutor was exhibiting 
brave tears, the eyes of the jurymen and many of the visitors were 


wet, and even the judge himself took out his handkerchief and 
valiantly wiped his nose. 

Six hours later the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all 
counts. The hushed court began to stir with relief at the end of 
the last tragic act in the Owens Valley drama. When the session 
was adjourned some remained to offer consolation to the two 
brothers. Others, torn between bitterness and lifelong friendship, 
hurried away without knowing what else to do. 

Within a few days the Wattersons were given from one to ten 
years' imprisonment at San Quentin. Paroled in 1933, they re- 
sided in Los Angeles for the rest of their lives, occasionally visiting 
Owens Valley. 

The fall of the Wattersons ended the active fight against Los 
Angeles. No longer did its aqueduct rock with blasts from em- 
battled valley ranchers. As the tension relaxed, a voluntary con- 
fession came in November 1927 from one dynamiter, Perry 
Sexton. At the same time city detectives had traced dynamite 
purchases to another valley citizen, who had already been ar- 
rested. But at a hearing held in Bishop the following spring this 
combined evidence was rejected by a local justice of the peace 
and six defendants were released. As for Sexton's full confession 
implicating the others, the judge simply would not believe it. It 
appeared that, whatever else they had lost, the valley people were 
resolved to protect their defenders to the last. Disillusioned and 
beaten, their only possession now was an unalterable resolve, as 
one Inyo newspaper expressed it, that "we will yet, somewhere, 
somehow, find a way to rise out of the dust and make our beloved 
Owens Valley as sweet a place to live as it was in years gone by." 

But they could not help knowing that the fate of the valley had 
passed from their hands. In the long struggle for control of 
Owens River the Los Angeles Water Department had suddenly 
won a more complete victory than it had intended. 

7: Flood and Drought 

Los Angeles was still reeling from the battle of Owens Valley 
when nature and bad judgment combined to deal the city an 


overwhelming blow. The underlying cause was the same drought 
in the early 19205 that had brought on the struggle for the Owens 

Even while the city was being pushed to desperate lengths for 
water, it became aware of an undue waste caused by its power 
plants in San Francisquito Canyon, some twenty miles north of 
San Fernando Valley. Unlike water, electric energy cannot be 
stored; it must be sent over transmission lines and used in homes 
and factories at the instant it is generated by the turbines. The 
constant flow of water at the two San Francisquito plants was 
too much for the San Fernando reservoirs to hold. Much of it 
was dumped into the canyon bottom, there to find its way into 
the Santa Clara River, and eventually to run past the Ventura 
County towns of Fillmore and Santa Paula on its way to the 
ocean. This loss in a drought season was deplored by the Water 
Department and taken into court by at least one irate San Fer- 
nando Valley farmer. 

Obviously a great new reservoir site below at least one of the 
power plants was needed to help the two San Fernando lakes in 
storing water for the city's use. William Mulholland first pro- 
posed a dam in Big Tujunga Canyon at the east side of the valley. 
Condemnation of the reservoir site was begun, but the owners 
fought for an extravagant price in court. Mulholland, refusing to 
allow the city to be held up, had the proceedings ended. An alter- 
nate reservoir site was bought in the San Francisquito Canyon, 
below Power House No. i, and construction was opened in Au- 
gust 1924. 

By May 1926 the Water Department had completed the great, 
arch-shaped concrete structure and christened it St. Francis 
Dam. When filled to capacity a year later, the reservoir held some 
34,000 acre-feet almost equaling the combined volume of the 
two San Fernando basins. Faced with continuing drought, Mul- 
holland had doubled the city's water storage none too soon; 
another dry season in 1927 made the new reservoir a veritable 
life saver for San Fernando crops. 

Yet the heat of the emergency had caused Mulholland to over- 
look ordinary engineering precautions. Along the San Andreas 
Fault much of the Coast Range was crossed with cracks; at the 
San Francisquito dam site, where the canyon walls were formed 


of mica schist and conglomerate, these faults brought unusual 
water leakage. Before the end of 1927 the abutments against 
which the dam rested had been soaked enough to swell slightly. 
In January 1928 two cracks appeared on the face of the dam, 
beginning at top center and slanting downward to the sides. 
Since the structure rested on solid bedrock, this indicated that the 
two sides had been moved slightly upward by the swelling. Water 
leaked through these seams, but they were soon calked up; some 
leakage is common in many dams. 

Downstream near Power House No. 2 lived thirteen city em- 
ployees and their families, who watched the passage of waste 
water with some apprehension. One nervous individual was con- 
tinually predicting that the dam would break. Early in March the 
water turned muddy a dangerous sign that abutment ground 
might be giving way. 

On March 12, Mulholland and Van Norman inspected the 
dam to check these reports. They found leakage, but to their 
relief noted that the muddy water was caused by some nearby 
road construction. The dam, they believed, was in no immediate 

Late that night the abutment anchoring the east end of the 
dam collapsed under the weight of the water it had absorbed. 
Several minutes before midnight a whole section of ground broke 
off, slid past the face of the dam, and thundered into the canyon 
floor. With it crashed the abutment itself, overpowered by the 
tremendous pressure of the reservoir water. 

In the next moment both wings of the dam crumpled under 
the terrific outpouring of water. While the whole canyon shook, a 
giant flood hurtled out of the reservoir on either side of the cen- 
tral section. On the crest of a hundred-foot wall of water, huge 
blocks of concrete rode down San Francisquito Canyon. Several, 
weighing thousands of tons apiece, were carried as far as half a 
mile. The canyon had suddenly been turned into a great trough 
for an overwhelming mountain of water. 

At Power House No. 2 the families were asleep when the giant 
thundered down upon them. The man who had predicted disas- 
ter awoke at a dog's bark. Hearing the awful roar, he jumped out 
of bed with a yell of warning and climbed furiously up the hill- 


side. He barely escaped the flood that engulfed the others, 
smashed the power plant, and rumbled past. 

Down the canyon it swept, stripping the sides of all vegeta- 
tion, houses, and power lines for sixty feet above the stream bed. 
Pieces of aqueduct siphons were carried off like straws, interrupt- 
ing all water supply north of San Fernando Valley. As the deluge 
poured out of the canyon it shot past Saugus for a mile before 
turning at the command of gravity and flinging itself into the 
Santa Clara River. 

At a rate of eighteen miles an hour the giant thundered west- 
ward, carrying an ugly burden of uprooted trees, houses, and 
debris. Castaic Junction was overwhelmed under a sixty-foot tide ; 
only a handful of survivors, warned by the terrifying roar, es- 
caped to higher ground. 

Eleven miles farther, at a construction camp of the Southern 
California Edison Company, 140 men slept in the path of the 
monster. It was almost upon them when the night watchman 
heard the rumble. Shunning his own safety, he ran through the 
tented streets shouting the alarm. Many of the men awoke, but 
not one escaped into the open before the deluge struck. Suddenly 
each tent house was turned into a bedlam of frenzied, clutching 
men. The canvas flaps had been tied shut against the cold March 
nights, and the victims fought to tear their way out of the sides. 
Some of the tents were sealed so tight that they floated on the 
crest of the flood like half-filled balloons a trick of fate which 
was all that saved most of the survivors. One man rode an empty 
trunk down the torrent; another sat astride the company water 
tank. Survivors were eventually washed up on higher ground as 
far west as Piru, but eighty-four were lost, among them the 
heroic night watchman. Fifty automobiles and tons of electrical 
equipment were washed away or buried in sand. 

Onward through the rich Santa Clara Valley the monster 
rolled, leaving no life in its path. Orange groves almost ripe for 
picking, apricot and walnut orchards, alfalfa and bean fields, 
were wiped from the land and a blanket of white sand left in 
their places. Highway bridges were splintered by debris and 
washed out. Scores of farm families along the river were caught 
sleeping, with no chance to escape. Those on higher ground had 
time to scramble for safety in their nightclothes, abandoning 


home and farm animals to the deluge. Others found house and 
all suddenly picked up by some terrifying force and carried 
madly along, until crushed by the torrent or smashed against the 
stump of a broken bridge. A woman with her three small chil- 
dren one of them a month-old baby clung to a feather mat- 
tress for two miles down the torrent; the top of a tree caught and 
held them until they were rescued later. 

More than one household was aroused in time by the frantic 
howling of the dog. Others heard the flood's terrible roar, later 
described as that of an Eastern tornado. One rancher blasted a 
hole in the roof with his shotgun as the water engulfed his house. 
The family was crawling through when the building began to 
move. It sailed downstream, caught in a group of sycamores, and 
floated there with its passengers until the flood subsided. Another 
family of fourteen tumbled into a single car and headed for safety 
with the roar ringing in their ears. On the way they stopped 
while the father ran to warn another household on a hillside. 
When he returned his car and family had disappeared in the 

The town of Piru had no more warning than the ranchers. 
Most of the community was sheltered by a hill, but settlers near 
the willow bottoms were swallowed up before they could flee. 
Seven miles beyond lay the larger town of Fillmore; nine miles 
farther, the chief settlement of the valley Santa Paula. Tele- 
phone lines had been washed out, and all hope of warning them 
seemed lost. 

The first alarm came from the Los Angeles power bureau, 
which had investigated the cause of electricity failure from the 
plant in San Francisquito Canyon. At 1:15 A.M. the warning was 
phoned to the sheriff's office at Ventura on the coast. Galls were 
immediately relayed to Santa Paula and Fillmore. A squad car 
swung out of Ventura and roared up the valley with siren blar- 
ing. It reached Santa Paula as local officers were turning out to 
rouse the town and sped on for Fillmore. There the driver pulled 
up at the firehouse and began ringing the bell. The telephone 
operator was already warning one family after another with 
frantic calls. Soon the cry was all over town: "Flood is coming; 
get back to the hills!" 

For half an hour the fire bell and two sirens kept up their 


ominous wails, while American Legion men routed the people in 
the lower part of town. Ignoring every plea for her own safety, 
the telephone girl remained at her switchboard, warning isolated 

An hour after the first warning the rising roar came out of the 
east and sent the remaining citizens hurrying for higher ground. 
In a moment an irresistible wall of water struck the lower part of 
town, and the bridge across the river went out with a crash that 
was heard for miles. From the main street of Fillmore the people 
watched while the fury passed. Then they followed the water's 
edge as it receded some to pick treasured belongings from the 

Nine miles beyond, Santa Paula lay in the direct path of the 
flood, unprotected by hills. As soon as the alarm arrived from 
Ventura the whistle at the nearby Union Oil refinery began to 
sound steady shrieks of warning. People rolled from their beds, 
expecting a fire; seeing none through their windows, many turned 
back to sleep. Others found the electric lights were dead and 
realized something was wrong. Most of them rushed out of doors 
and joined the excited crowds in the downtown streets. Trucks 
and autos were dashing by, carrying load after load of people to 
the safety of the hills. Here, too, the telephone girls stayed at 
their posts to warn the valley, not knowing when the flood might 
strike. Two motorcycle policemen roared from house to house in 
the lower residential district, pounding on doors. 

"The dam has broken," they shouted. "Flee for your lives!" 

About three-thirty in the morning, two hours after the alarm, 
the roaring monster descended on Santa Paula. A twenty-five- 
foot wave billowed through the streets, overturning houses and 
autos, carrying some of them downstream in its teeth. Onward it 
raged past the threatened settlements of Saticoy and Montalvo. 
Then shortly after five o'clock it flung itself with its burden of 
debris headlong into the sea. 

As soon as the crest of the flood had passed, the people of Santa 
Paula scrambled back into the valley with lanterns and flash- 
lights, searching the wreckage for survivors. Hundreds of Ven- 
tura County Legionnaires, alerted an hour after the dam broke, 
took over the work of rescuing the living and recovering the 
dead. There were few injured survivors; the deluge had made a 


relentless sweep of the valley, destroying anything caught in its 
way. People were either whole or they were lost. 

Scarcely an hour after the flood the local American Red Gross 
had set up its first emergency canteen in Santa Paula. In three 
more hours it was fully organized and serving hot breakfasts to 
long lines of refugees. Ventura County Boy Scouts were helping 
with first aid, running messages, guarding property. 

In the early morning all Southern California heard the news; 
radio stations sent out appeals for help, and volunteers were 
hurrying northward. The Southern Pacific ran free trainloads of 
rescue parties as far as the Santa Clara river bed, where its tracks 
were washed out for miles. Southern California fuel and truck 
companies promptly donated gas and equipment without charge 
for the emergency. Scores of relief cars from the Southern Cali- 
fornia Auto Club were rushed to the valley, while sixty Los 
Angeles policemen patrolled the area to keep out sight-seers. 

By 10 A.M. an emergency meeting of civic leaders was held in 
Santa Paula to organize for the disaster. A Citizens Emergency 
Committee was formed, headed by Charles C. Teague, veteran 
valley rancher and one of the most respected men in California. 
Through its efforts hundreds of refugees were sheltered in a huge 
abandoned packing house, while others were taken into the 
homes of friends and relatives. 

In Los Angeles, William Mulholland, builder of St. Francis 
Dam, was prostrated by the news. The tired old man, his face 
lined with remorse, shuffled into the office of the water and power 
commissioners and reported the calamity. "I envy the dead," he 
said later. 

By the next day the entire nation was extending its sympathy 
to the stricken Santa Clara Valley. That morning the national 
officers of the Red Cross reached the scene, and a telegram of 
condolence arrived from President Calvin Coolidge. To the peo- 
ple of the nation, many of whom had experienced the slow-rising 
floods of Midwestern rivers, this unexpected giant in the night 
was a strange and terrifying thought. There was yet no way of 
knowing its death toll, but it was later fixed at 385 persons, with 
1250 houses and 7900 acres of rich farmlands destroyed alto- 
gether one of the worst disasters in American history. 

From the beginning the city of Los Angeles accepted full blame 

for the appalling catastrophe. "Los Angeles cannot restore the 
lives lost," declared Mayor George Cryer, "but the property dam- 
ages should be paid. . . . The responsibility is ours." 

A committee was immediately formed by the city to share the 
relief work with the valley group under C. C. Teague, and the 
City Council advanced $1,000,000 as an earnest of its responsi- 
bility. Soon other joint committees were set up to work out pay- 
ments for damages. "No question of the legal status of claims 
should ever be raised/' they were directed by Van Norman of the 
Water Department. "The moral obligation to repay damage in 
the valley is sufficient." 

As a result Los Angeles paid without question every claim 
established by the committees a total of $15,000,000. More 
than a thousand homes were rebuilt by the city; the lower section 
of Santa Paula blossomed as a model community of modern 
houses. Despite the number of ambulance chasers who flocked to 
the valley and promised huge settlements to individuals, not one 
damage claim against Los Angeles was taken into court. 

For the next few weeks after the disaster San Francisquito 
Canyon was alive with engineers and geologists investigating the 
cause of the disaster. Five different reports were rendered to state 
and local governments; all were agreed that the concrete in the 
dam was faultless, but that it had failed because of poor rock 
foundations. The coroner's jury, sitting in Los Angeles a few 
days after the tragedy, concluded that construction and operation 
of a great dam "should never be left to the sole judgment of one 
man, no matter how eminent, without check by independent 
expert authority, for no one is free from error." 

That one man William Mulholland was felled by the ca- 
lamity; but he would not shrink from the responsibility. Broken 
in spirit, he feebly took the stand at the coroner's inquest and 
gave his forthright testimony. When it was suggested, by way of 
diverting the blame, that he often left engineering details to sub- 
ordinates, the Chief raised his tired head in protest. 

"Fasten it on to me if there was any error of judgment 
human judgment," he said in a voice deep and trembling. "I am 
that human." 

In spite of the dreadful liability placed upon him, that upright 
admission earned Mulholland the sympathy of Southern Cali- 


fornians. A flood of editorials and letters gave him ample assur- 
ance, if any were needed, that the community which owed its 
growth to the water he had brought was standing by him in his 
dark hour. 

The disaster had struck Mulholland at the height of his career. 
Through the mid-twenties he had been able to turn over much of 
his duties to his chief assistant, H. A. Van Norman, but he still 
rilled the post of superintendent and the unofficial title of "grand 
old man" of the department. Recently Mulholland Dam and 
Mulholland Drive had been named in his honor by a grateful 
city. In February 1927 he had been the guest of honor at a bril- 
liant banquet celebrating the silver anniversary of the city Water 
Department. All the notables of Los Angeles were there; after 
serious speeches by Van Norman and others, the Chief had been 
presented with a loving cup in the midst of appropriate eulogies 
and a thundering applause. 

True to form, he had opened his speech with sly jibes at pre- 
vious speakers, launched into some anecdotes at their expense, 
and soon had the guests howling with delight. One distinguished 
crony after another jumped up and exchanged stories with Mul- 
holland while the audience roared. In his lovable way the old 
Chief had broken the ice, had turned a dull evening into a 
hilarious reunion, and had shown that at seventy-two he could 
still lead the field in a battle of wits. 

But now that irrepressible spirit was gone. The tired and sen- 
sitive old man could not withstand the shock of the St. Francis 
disaster. For six months he turned within himself a stony figure 
who would not speak, whose friends and family hesitated to ad- 
dress him. Usually a hearty eater, he scarcely touched his meals. 
At night he tossed in bed or walked the floor. In November 1928 
he resigned as superintendent and left an active career with the 
department after fifty-one years. Though he was retained as chief 
consulting engineer, time weighed heavily on him; he was the 
kind of man who had never taken a day off except when forced 
by his associates. 

"I took a vacation once," Mulholland recalled. "I spent an 
afternoon at Long Beach. I was bored to death from loafing and 
came back to work next morning." 

On his seventieth birthday in 1925 the water board had "di- 

rected" the Chief to take a vacation. At first he said nothing, as 
though he could not tolerate such an idea. But in a few days he 
notified the board that he "desired to be absent from the city for 
about a week," and headed north on his first vacation in thirty- 
five years. At Oakland and Sacramento he stopped long enough 
to serve on two consulting boards of engineers, and was tied up 
in work again when a birthday telegram reached him from the 
Los Angeles board, reminding him that he had intended to take 
at least one day off. He finished his consulting work just in time 
to catch a southbound train at the week's end and appear at his 
old desk next morning. 

Mulholland's retirement now plunged him suddenly from this 
strenuous life into one of lonely leisure. When an unexpected rain 
struck Los Angeles he would still hurry to the department offices 
to join his comrades in reassessing the city's water supply. But 
ordinarily he found himself strangely lacking in his old enthusi- 
asm for life. Even his hobbies of geology and nature study no 
longer held interest for him. More than a year after the dam 
failure he was taking a ride in San Fernando Valley with his 
daughter Rose. Suddenly he realized that the entertainment he 
usually gained from the sights along the way was now lost. 

"What's the matter with me?" he exclaimed abruptly, then 
slowly gave his own answer. "I see things, but they don't interest 
me. The zest for living is gone." 

By the end of the 19205 it seemed that the same disaster which 
broke Mulholland's spirit had also affected the entire Los Angeles 
Water and Power Department. Like a beaten giant, it turned 
with compassion to a final settlement in the Owens Valley con- 
troversy. It found a community equally distressed prostrated by 
the fall of the Watterson banks. 

Resentment in the valley still ran high against Los Angeles. 
Although their leaders had been proven false, nothing could erase 
the memory of years of struggle with city officials, and nothing 
could hide the neglected fields and empty farmhouses remaining 
on lands acquired by the city's purchasing agents. It was time for 
understanding by negotiators on both sides. In the generous pay- 
ment of St. Francis disaster claims Los Angeles had learned that 
the good will of the people involved was worth far more than the 


money that might be saved by taking a coldly legal view of 

Two problems remained for final settlement in Owens Valley 
sale of the Keough pool and other ranch properties, and com- 
pensation for loss of trade for town properties. These were the 
issues which had inflamed valley men to violence in 1927. That 
violence had ended only in defeat for the settlers, but the city 
now moved to fulfill the conditions they had sought. 

In the summer of 1929, Los Angeles agreed to a three-man 
arbitration committee one of the old valley demands for the 
fixing of prices for remaining ranch property. Each side selected 
a representative, and the two then chose a third, impartial mem- 
ber. After going over thirty-eight pieces of property they fixed a 
series of appraisals which were largely favorable to the valley. 
Both sides accepted; the Owens River Canal ranchers did not 
get the full price demanded, but they had profited by waiting. 
Time and arbitration had gained them what dynamite could not. 

When it came to the town properties, the Los Angeles men 
refused to consider reparations. They agreed, however, that the 
city could buy the land and improvements outright and lease 
them back to the occupants. In September 1929 a committee of 
valley representatives met with city officials at Independence to 
work out this proposal. Heading the Los Angeles group was 
Judge Harlan J. Palmer, then president of the water board, 
whom valley people respected as a fair arbiter. He proposed a 
generous formula for prices which was thereupon accepted. 

The following year Los Angeles voted the necessary bonds 
over $12,000,000 to "clean up Owens Valley." According to 
agreement, the city paid peak 1923 prices for town properties 
during the depression years which followed, yielding far greater 
values for sellers than they could have made on the open market. 
Los Angeles was making an expensive try at gaining the good 
will of the valley and bringing the long struggle to an end. 

But though Los Angeles owned practically all of Owens Valley 
by the mid-thirties from farmlands to store buildings it had 
solved the rankling problem only in a mechanical way. Owens 
Valley remained a tenant community dependent on a single land- 
lord. Those who had sold town property signed away all right to 
sue the city for reparations; those selling farmlands leased them 


back minus the water rights, and irrigated their crops only 
through short-term agreements or the sufferance of the city. Los 
Angeles had brought an end to the Owens Valley question, but 
only in so far as its own purposes were concerned. So long as an 
unwatered Owens Valley remained, such a settlement was Cali- 
fornia's loss. 

Through the dry years of the early 19305 valley agriculture 
reached its lowest ebb. Besides draining every drop of surface 
water into the aqueduct, Los Angeles dotted its land with wells 
and pumped water out so determinedly that underground levels 
sank to depths which made ordinary farming impossible. The 
settlers still selling to the city had no reason for remaining on 
their lands and were soon engaged in the third exodus from 
Owens Valley. In the lean years from 1929 to 1936 school en- 
rollment dropped thirteen per cent. Hardest hit were the towns of 
Big Pine and Independence, which today stand with more than 
one vacant store building and empty highway lot. 

Through this period, as in the middle twenties, families were 
piling autos high with household belongings, taking a last look at 
the old farmhouse, and heading down the highway to Southern 
California or San Joaquin Valley. They had not been driven from 
their homes, as some have claimed. But with the sale of their 
property they had left behind a part of their lives in as beautiful 
a pastoral valley as California possesses. Their feelings at this 
uprooting process were expressed in a series of prose sketches 
appearing in the Inyo Independent during the early thirties. 

"It is not the loss of the home, or the garden ... or the 
growing business which has been the test," said one; "it's the loss 
of the years, and the hope and the endeavor. ..." 

Stronger words than these were hurled at the city in a simulta- 
neous outburst of critical writing. It seemed that all the pent-up 
feelings created by the Owens Valley war were suddenly released 
in a torrent of words. Willie Chalfant, unrelenting editor of the 
Inyo Register, turned out a revised edition of his Story of Inyo in 
1933, unleashing a terrific diatribe against Los Angeles. Since 
Fred Eaton's original reconnaissance trip to the valley in 1904, 
Chalfant had witnessed the whole drama, and had recorded it in 
his weekly newspaper. Like a prosecuting attorney, he now mar- 
shaled his evidence, drawing his conclusions without quarter. 


With adequate storage of flood waters [he declared], there would 
have been little occasion for interference with the streams that were 
the very life-blood of Owens Valley; there would have been no de- 
struction of homes and farms; Owens Valley towns would have con- 
tinued to grow; there would have been water for all; millions of dollars 
would have been saved to the city; and Los Angeles would not have 
created for itself a repute that generations may not forget. 

At the same time outside writers were seizing the Owens Valley 
story and extracting from it the last drop of pathos and sensation- 
alism. A Southern California newspaperman named Morrow 
Mayo far surpassed Chalfant's accusations in his history book, 
Los Angeles. Under the provocative chapter title, "The Rape of 
Owens Valley," he tackled his subject with obvious relish. Some 
of the legitimate complaints of valley people became the basis of 
wild charges and inaccurate history. 

"The city of the Angels moved through this valley like a devas- 
tating plague," he charged. "It was ruthless, stupid, cruel, and 
crooked. It deliberately ruined Owens Valley. It stole the waters 
of the Owens River." 

To refute his statements one by one would seem unnecessary 
if they had not been believed and repeated by later writers. He 
claimed, for example, that the Owens Valley project was con- 
ceived by the men who bought land in San Fernando Valley for 
the purpose of reaping huge profits at public expense; that Los 
Angeles "forced the ranchers to sell to the city at condemnation 
prices and get out"; that it took water from the river forcibly 
without a legal right, "with armed men patrolling the aqueduct 
and the river day and night." 

Even the Owens Valley people made no such claims as these. 
Fred Eaton and no other conceived the Owens River scheme. In 
practically every case ranchers sold to the city because they were 
offered highly attractive prices. Los Angeles took extreme care to 
establish legal water rights from the beginning; for several years, 
in fact, it was prevented from exercising part of these rights 
because of forcible diversions by some of the ranchers. And the 
aqueduct guards were not mounted to take water from the river 
but to protect the ditch from dynamitings by some of the valley 

Unfortunately Mr. Mayo's book has not been challenged, and 


has stood as the prime source on the Owens Valley story for other 
writers. By now the distorted claims are tacitly accepted as fact. 
Many an Angeleno believes that his city "robbed" Owens Valley 
of its water and used it for nothing else than to fatten San 
Fernando Valley. 

Certainly the Owens Valley episode was bad enough without 
burdening Los Angeles with such imaginary crimes. It appears 
true that city officials used questionable political methods to kill 
federal development in Owens Valley, gain rights of way, and 
hold water filings; that they failed to build a reservoir at the 
head of the aqueduct which would have prevented the need of 
desolating Owens Valley; that for several years they had no 
settled land-buying policy, causing loss of confidence among val- 
ley citizens; and that they hurt business in the towns by the pur- 
chase of farms, but refused to assume responsibility for such 
losses. These are the grievances of valley people. 

Without these injustices there would have been ample reason 
for good feeling between city and valley. Los Angeles had shown 
examples of good will which in other circumstances would have 
earned the friendship of the settlers. Construction of the aque- 
duct had brought Owens Valley its long-sought rail connection 
with Southern California; city power plants provided electricity 
for Lone Pine and Independence; while exempted by law from 
paying taxes in Inyo County, Los Angeles voluntarily paid them 
anyway, and helped to push through a legislative bill legalizing 
the process; it exerted efforts to get a paved highway into the 
valley, and helped local towns to publicize the attractions of the 
eastern Sierra. 

But the spirit of co-operation which might have been engen- 
dered by these neighborly deeds was turned into hatred and vio- 
lence by the results of one tragic mistake. From the city's failure 
to build Long Valley Dam stem most of the other costly events; 
through it Los Angeles could have had enough storage capacity 
to tide itself through dry years and still leave surplus water for 
Owens Valley farmers. Without it the drought forced city pur- 
chases in the upper valley and loss of trade to its townspeople. 
When Los Angeles failed to heed protests from the settlers their 
answer was written with dynamite. 

Ironically enough, Los Angeles tolerated this glaring mistake 


throughout the Owens Valley war. Only after the crisis had 
passed and the entire valley lay in its control did the city turn to 
remove the root of the trouble. 

It had long been known that Los Angeles could acquire Long 
Valley whenever it would meet Fred Eaton's price, which was a 
million dollars or more. Mulholland, believing Eaton was at- 
tempting to hold up the city, had refused to deal. But by the 
middle igsos, when drought was threatening their water supply, 
Los Angeles officials were ready to ignore Mulholland's feud with 
Eaton. Ed Leahey, the city's valley representative, had begun 
buying land in upper Owens Valley at extravagant prices, and 
believed the same liberality should be extended to Long Valley. 

"Eaton has never been connected with the dynamitings," he 
told Mulholland. "We should give him as good a deal as the 

The Chief agreed, and negotiations were opened with the man 
who ruled Long Valley. But Eaton was quick-tempered and stub- 
born ; after trying for twenty years to get his price on the property, 
he would not compromise now. He knew Long Valley was far 
more valuable as a reservoir site than as a cattle ranch and be- 
lieved that if the city resorted to condemnation it would have to 
pay a reservoir price. Leahey dickered and argued with him time 
after time, offering as high as $750,000. To Eaton the amount 
was unthinkable; he finally developed such a violent reaction at 
the mere mention of the figure that the Los Angeles agent had to 
forget it. At one time, while negotiating with Eaton at the Cali- 
fornia Club, Leahey offered to submit the property to Dun & 
Bradstreet for appraisal. The old man was outraged. 

"You call yourself a friend of mine," he shouted, shaking his 
cane, "and suggest a commercial-firm appraisal of reservoir 

But other events were crowding in upon Eaton to force a crisis 
on Long Valley. Though he owned a controlling share in the 
Eaton Land and Cattle Company, there were other interested 
parties who urged acceptance of the city's offer. About 1926, 
while Eaton was in Los Angeles, the Watterson bankers loaned 
$200,000 to the Eaton company through some of its other offi- 
cers, and took a mortgage on Long Valley. The transaction 
should have been invalid without Eaton's knowledge, but before 

he could take necessary action the Wattersons sold the paper to 
the Pacific Southwest Trust and Savings Bank a Los Angeles 
firm. Soon afterward the Watterson banks crashed. With them 
went the $200,000, which had supposedly been on deposit. 

The loss was the beginning of disaster for Fred Eaton. He was 
left with a mortgage on his Long Valley lands and no way to pay 
it off. For years he battled the Pacific Southwest Bank in the 
courts, claiming that he could not be held by a note he had not 
signed. But in 1932 the bank won its case and foreclosed the 
mortgage. Long Valley at last went under the hammer to satisfy 
the debt; Fred Eaton's twenty-seven-year fight had ended in 

Los Angeles bought the property on December 8, 1932. It 
might have profited by Eaton's desperation, but paid an ap- 
praisal price of $650,000. Two thirds of this was absorbed by the 
bank note, interest, and fees. Eaton and his associates split the 
rest, and had little left after paying an accumulation of debts. It 
was bitter fruit after a million-dollar dream. 

At last the city had bought Long Valley at its own price, but 
the few hundred thousand it had retained were a costly economy. 
Many millions in Owens Valley land purchases might have been 
saved and a farming community spared from desolation if Long 
Valley Reservoir had been bought and developed in the early 

As for Eaton, the long years of struggle toward a single material 
goal had taken a relentless toll. Always shrewd and willful, Eaton 
grew bitterer as old age crept upon him. His mind became so 
fixed on the million-dollar price he demanded that it became a 
fetish with him. Some time after the Watterson debacle left him 
hopelessly in debt the old rancher suffered his first stroke. There- 
after he walked only with the help of a cane and aged rapidly. 

Not long after the foreclosure and sale brought an end to the 
tension Eaton moved to heal the break with his old friend Mul- 
holland. In younger days the two had been hearty companions, 
had shared many a trip afield and many a laugh around a desert 
campfire, but it had been thirty years since the two men had 
forsworn each other. When a message now came to his home that 
Eaton would like to see him Mulholland put on his hat and 
hurried out without a word. At Eaton's house he was ushered to 

the side of his one-time friend, greeting him with a "Hello, 

They were the first words that had passed between them in 
years. The two were left alone to compress years of conversation 
into a few minutes. When Mulholland left, the old enmity had 
been healed, and Eaton had absolved himself of rancor. A few 
months later, on March 1 1, 1934, Fred Eaton died. That night a 
brooding Mulholland made a strange disclosure to his daughter. 

"For three nights in succession I dreamed of Fred," he mused. 
"The two of us were walking along young and virile like we used 
to be." Then, with a pause, "Yet I knew we were both dead." 

The startling experience was almost a prophecy. Mulholland, 
younger than Eaton by one day, followed him in death by little 
more than a year. 

Los Angeles now had Long Valley, but there was one more 
obstacle to wipe out before it could build the dam that would 
write the end to the Owens Valley episode. Ever since the city's 
entrance into the Sierra country in 1905 it had been hampered 
by a private power filing in the rapids of the Owens River gorge. 
Situated below the Long Valley reservoir site, the gorge was an 
ideal power location. As the Los Angeles Water Department 
extended into the electric field the site became one of the biggest 
factors in its expansion plans. After 1920, when the property was 
acquired by the Southern Sierras Power Company, Los Angeles 
tried to condemn it in the courts. But the private concern was 
already operating as a public utility, transmitting power as far as 
Imperial Valley. When the Supreme Court finally ruled that the 
property could not be condemned Los Angeles bought it out- 
right in 1933 and ended the long battle. With both reservoir and 
power sites in its hands, the city plunged into active work on Long 
Valley Dam in April 1935. Today it is completing tunnels and 
powerhouses to harness the remaining energy locked in the depths 
of the Owens River gorge. 

Meanwhile a continuing drought through the early 19305 had 
made Los Angeles desperate for new water sources. Into Mono 
County, north of Inyo, went the city's purchasing agents, buying 
water rights on all the headwaters of Owens River McGee 
Creek, Horton Creek, and a dozen others fed by jeweled lakes in 

the snow-clad Sierras. North of the Owens River basin they 
tapped every stream as far as Leevining Greek, which flows into 
the saline expanse of Mono Lake. 

These waters were brought into the head of the Owens River 
by a giant eleven-mile tunnel under a row of extinct volcanoes, 
the Mono Craters. After an exasperating battle with underground 
water and carbon dioxide gas deposits, the great bore was com- 
pleted in six years. On April 24, 1 940, the first waters were turned 
through the Mono Craters tunnel to the head of Owens River, 
to join the aqueduct at the growing reservoir at Long Valley. 
It was a gigantic feat, even for the master dreamers and doers 
of the Los Angeles water system. By their energies the southern 
metropolis now taps almost the entire east slope of the High 
Sierra a mighty water resource extending a hundred and fifty 
miles from Mono to Owens Lake. 

Beginning in 1936, a series of wet years helped to bring a 
rebirth in Owens Valley. From despair and disillusion its re- 
maining settlers turned to new hope as the community shook it- 
self out of its slumber. Little attempt was made at farming, but 
the city's withdrawal of its water wells caused the native grasses 
to appear in the valley once more. Gradually there rose a flourish- 
ing cattle and sheep business. One of the original industries of 
Owens Valley, stock raising, had long since been supplanted by 
agriculture through the magic touch of irrigation. Now the 
settlement was starting over again, retracing the same steps of 
development which civilization itself has followed. 

But this time the valley was no longer isolated by mountain 
fastnesses. Good paved highways made its scenic beauties avail- 
able to all Californians, and especially to the people of Los 
Angeles. Owens Valley, gathering strength for its comeback, took 
new heart and enthusiasm in the task of selling itself to prospec- 
tive vacationers. 

Leading this movement was Father John J. Crowley, who had 
come to Owens Valley as a young Catholic priest in 1919. To- 
ward the end of the water war he had been transferred elsewhere ; 
but in 1934 he returned, broken in health, but hoping to rebuild 
himself in the invigorating mountain climate. Perceiving the 
despair of the valley's people, he determined to make its re- 
juvenation his crusade. In little more than a year he joined 


editor W. A. Chalfant and other businessmen in organizing the 
Inyo-Mono Association, and set about publicizing the vacation 
wonders of eastern California. 

In helping Owens Valley back to life, Father Crowley re- 
built his own health. He lived to see his parish grow into a 
vacationer's paradise, saw new auto courts, gas stations, chain 
groceries, spring up in the towns of Lone Pine and Bishop. By 
1940 a million tourists a year were pouring through the valley, 
leaving some $5,000,000 in trade. Even some of the old-timers 
who had left Inyo in its dark days were drifting back as the 
community returned to life. 

Most of this vacation traffic was coming from the great 
metropolis to the south, which had been mushrooming for twenty- 
five years on a foundation of Owens River water. Thus the lost 
product was bringing its own indirect return. Angelenos who 
would scarcely admit their address when visiting Owens Valley 
in the bitter twenties were now welcomed as customers in the 
valley's leading business the tourist trade. 

Nor was this the city's only aid to Owens Valley. New water 
and power projects brought added employment and heavy pay 
rolls to the eastern Sierra country. By 1941, Harvey A. Van 
Norman's crewmen had finished Long Valley Dam, and thereby 
corrected the mistake that had sparked the Owens Valley war. 
Standing 1 1 8 feet high, the earth-fill structure stores 1 83,000 acre- 
feet not far from the amount originally demanded by the 
farmers when the matter reached a crisis in 1922. The Los 
Angeles Water Department will soon increase the storage capacity 
to 285,000 acre-feet enough to permit Owens Valley a certain 
supply of surplus waters with which to turn back the sagebrush 
and attempt to rebuild a lost farming industry. 

On October 19, 1941, the final phase of the Owens Valley 
drama was opened with a celebration, attended by over six 
hundred Owens Valley and Los Angeles people, at a spot over- 
looking the giant new reservoir in Long Valley. It was the 
dedication of Crowley Lake, named in honor of a country priest 
who had helped to stir Owens Valley out of its despair. Father 
John J. Crowley had not lived to witness the event, but his tragic 
death in an auto accident the year before had left the valley 
people determined to fix his name to the waters of their hope. 


Among the speakers at the ceremony was Willie Chalfant, old 
and embattled editor of the Inyo Register. His comment on the 
Long Valley achievement brought an official close to the struggle 
he had witnessed for thirty-five years: 

"It is a promise of the end of dissensions, and we welcome 
its implied pledge that hereafter, City and Eastern Sierra shall 
work hand in hand. . . . We cannot but regret that this enter- 
prise was not constructed long ago; there would have been less 
of history to forget. . . ." 

Ahead, it is hoped, lies the kind to be remembered. There has 
been enough of discord in the Owens River project to make it 
stand as a regrettable example of the strife that can occur when 
a rising city reaches afield for water. The episode can only give 
formidable support to the expectation that, as civilization be- 
comes more complex, industrial nerve centers must inevitably 
be thrown into competition for water with their agricultural 


Part 2 

8: The Desert Blossoms 

More than anything else, the Owens Valley story epitomizes the 
basic conflict over water among the peoples of the Southwest. In 
most of the arid country of America development has been 
limited by water supply. But Southern California has refused to 
recognize such limits. It is here, therefore, that the West's funda- 
mental water problem has rankled deepest and has driven cities 
and farm communities to the furthest extremities. Its economic 
development has risen out of its water development first from 
irrigation along its own limited streams and finally through diver- 
sions from far-off sources for both farm and city use. Certainly 
its growth has not been held back by other disadvantages. Like 
most arid regions, its soil is as fertile as any in the world. 

"Where the mesquite grows," runs an old desert saying, "you 
can make fence posts bloom if you bring water." 

The lordly Colorado, as the one great river worthy of the 
name in the Southwest, has provided its most spectacular water 
projects and its most far-ranging water conflict. One of America's 
three great water systems, it drains parts of seven states from 
Wyoming to the Gulf of California. Winter snows on the summits 
of the Rocky Mountains the "white gold" of the West make 
up its source. The sandy beds of its lower tributaries, from Utah 
southward, load its currents with mud, helping it through count- 
less ages to scour out a deep gorge along most of its length. 


For decades after the white man's entry into the Southwest 
the Colorado kept its secrets locked behind these impenetrable 
canyon walls. Then in 1869 the first full-scale exploration was 
made by Major John Wesley Powell, a Civil War veteran turned 
geology professor. Starting in Wyoming on the Green River 
longest of the Colorado's upper tributaries he headed down- 
stream with eleven men and four wooden boats. Four months 
later, after a harrowing passage through the rapids of the Grand 
Canyon, the expedition reached the Gulf of California. Powell's 
reports of this and later expeditions helped to unlock the mysteries 
of the Colorado and prepare it for the use of man. 

Outposts of the American frontier had already begun to tap 
the Colorado system for meager supplies of irrigating water. 
In 1854, a party of Mormons, the West's first American irrigators, 
settled in Wyoming's Southwest corner and began diverting 
water from the Green River to their crops. After Powell's 
expedition other settlements sprang up along mountainbound 
tributaries in Colorado, as fast as the region was made safe from 
Indians. In the early i88os farmers began to cultivate the Un- 
compahgre Valley, southeast of Grand Junction, and proceeded 
to put three times as much land under the hoe as the river could 
irrigate. Then began a long struggle to secure relief from the deep- 
gorged Gunnison River several miles away; it did not end until 
1909, when the United States Reclamation Bureau completed 
one of its first and most spectacular projects with a six-mile tunnel 
from the Gunnison to the Uncompahgre. 

By this time, however, the lower basin of the Colorado was out- 
stripping the mountain region in irrigation. The Southwest's 
first water diversion from the Colorado had been made in 1877 
by Samuel Blythe, for whom the California town of Blythe is 
named. He was soon irrigating crops in the Palo Verde Valley, 
one of the few spots along the deep canyon of the Colorado where 
water can be turned onto the land by gravity ditches. 

On the Arizona side, irrigation first began in the Yuma Valley 
in the early 18905. When the Reclamation Service was formed it 
made this one of its first projects, and in 1909 completed Laguna 
Dam the first one on the Colorado. From the beginning Yuma 
was a model project for other government irrigation efforts 
throughout the West. But having begun its life in 1902, the 

Reclamation Service was about three years too late for the most 
spectacular development of all. 

On a blistering day just before the dawn of the twentieth 
century five men drove their wagon into the sterile depression 
known as the Colorado Desert; from a spot near the present 
Calexico they surveyed its barren expanse. 

One of them was Charles Rockwood, a huge, powerful young 
man with a bulldog appearance and an enthusiasm for sharing 
in the great task of reclaiming the arid West. In his mind was a 
plan to turn this treeless inferno into an agricultural empire 
of 1,000,000 acres. The magic ingredient was water. Rockwood 
believed he knew where to get it. 

Another was George Chaffey, one of the world's leading 
reclamationists. Founder of Ontario and other California set- 
tlements, builder of pioneer irrigation projects in Australia, this 
quiet, gray-bearded engineer had carved empires on two conti- 
nents by the simple formula of applying water to the earth. 
Rockwood was now urging him to build the canal which would 
bring lifeblood into this uninhabited land. 

Chaffey caught the vision, for he was also a man of big 
dreams. But his practical side rebelled at the expense of con- 
structing the necessary fifty-mile canal. Turning to Rockwood, 
he told him it was no use. They headed back to the town of Yuma 
while Rockwood nursed his disappointment. 

Ever since he had first seen this land in 1892 he had tried in 
vain to finance its development. Born in Michigan, Rockwood 
had come West as a young engineer, and had lived in arid regions 
long enough to know that this was a project of magnificent 
promise. As chief irrigator for the vast Yakima development in 
Washington one of the first reclamation schemes in the North- 
west Rockwood had gained experience and fame. Now, through 
most of the decade of the nineties, his potentialities as an engineer 
had been buried in this visionary Colorado Desert plan. 

The physical features of the idea were obvious. They involved 
the law of gravity and the waters of the mighty Colorado River, 
passing unused scarcely sixty miles away. 

Like any other muddy river, the Colorado forms a delta of 
earth where it enters the ocean. Second only to the Tigris as a 
carrier of silt, it sends down enough soil every year to refill the 

Panama Canal. But in the ancient process of building its bed 
out into the Gulf of California, the river has played a unique 
geological trick. It has completely spanned an ocean inlet which 
once extended as far north as the present Indio, in Coachella 
Valley. A third of the gulf was thus cut off; its water evaporated 
in the sun, leaving a dry basin below sea level know as the 
Salton Sink. 

But the silt-laden river, building up its own bed on the delta at 
the rate of a foot a year, remained unstable in its course. Several 
times in past ages it had left its channel to the sea and turned 
northward into the sterile depression it had created. For years at 
a time it had poured into this prison, until the new bed had been 
lifted high by depositing silt. The stream was then obliged by 
gravity to switch southward once more into the gulf. The inland 
lake evaporated, to await replenishing ages hence when the in- 
decisive river changed its mind again. It was one of the most 
remarkable geologic phenomenons in all of nature. 

How long since the river had paid its last visit was unknown 
to Rockwood. Native Cocopah Indians told a legend of the 
inland sea which once filled this "palm of the hand of God." 
Certainly there remained as a telltale record the ancient shore line 
around the rim of the basin. In canyons along that shore line 
myriad groves of palm trees stood as survivors of a once tropical 

Even in the four hundred years of man's acquaintance the 
Colorado or one of its tributaries has periodically flooded enough 
to overflow into this sink, forming a temporary lake in its 
lowest depression. Today experts can examine the earth on the 
different mesas of Imperial Valley and identify the particular 
Colorado tributary Gila, Salt, Williams, or Virgin rivers whose 
floodwaters rushed in and left a deposit of silt. It is these layers 
of fine soil, spread by flash floods, which have covered the alkali 
floor left by the sea and made the valley fit for cultivation by 
man. Its position several hundred feet below the Colorado River 
has laid the entire region open to gravity irrigation. 

Others before Rockwood had visioned the latent power of 
the Colorado Desert. Chief of these was Dr. Oliver Wozencraft, 
prominent forty-niner who first conceived the idea of reclaiming 
the region with Colorado River water, and consumed the last 


forty years of his life trying vainly to promote it. Rockwood him- 
self first called to the Colorado delta to build an ill-fated irri- 
gation scheme in Sonora, Mexico remained to tackle the more 
inviting problem of the Salton Sink. By 1896, after repeated 
financial disappointments, he joined Anthony H. Heber and 
several other associates in forming the California Development 
Company. During the next four years he haunted Eastern finan- 
cial circles in an effort to raise real capital for the venture. But 
to prospective investors the Colorado Desert was as remote and 
uninspiring as the Sahara. Capitalists laughed at him, saying that 
even if water could be brought to the land it would never yield 
any crops. 

"Why, it will be absolutely worthless anyhow," he was told. 
"Alkali will come up." 

Late in 1899, with the California Development Company facing 
defeat, Rockwood was closing up his New York office when a 
telegram reached him from California : George Chaff ey, the great 
irrigationist, had agreed to examine the project. Hurrying west- 
ward, Rockwood met Chaffey and accompanied him into the 
Colorado Desert. But after two months of investigation the 
famed empire builder pronounced the scheme impracticable. 
Rockwood returned to New York all but beaten. By February 
1900, with a delinquent-tax suit threatening the company, he 
wrote to Anthony Heber in despair. 

"I feel very much inclined to jump the whole business and go 
into something else," he said, "but will stick to it for a month 
yet " 

George Chaffey, in the meantime, had not been able to dis- 
miss the Colorado scheme. During a visit to Yuma he decided to 
investigate a new aspect of it which had crossed his mind. 
Taking an Indian guide, he explored the Colorado delta in de- 
tail, finding a series of ancient watercourses into the Salton Sink 
which could be used to cut canal costs to one tenth of the esti- 
mate. He returned from three weeks of desert hardships which 
eventually caused him permanent deafness; but also with him was 
a fresh enthusiasm. He now saw Rockwood's project as an un- 
surpassed opportunity to reclaim an empire. When he reached 
Los Angeles his son Andrew pointed out the financial risks and 

begged him to stay out of this shaky California Development 
Company. George Chaffey would not listen. 

"Let me do one more big thing before I die," he said. 

Andrew relented, and the old irrigator sent a hurried wire to 
Rockwood in New York that he would join the scheme. 

Chaff ey's entry into the project proved its turning point. Early 
in April 1900 he contracted to build the canal and deliver the 
water at the upper end of the valley in return for a quarter of 
the company's stock. Instead of the formidable name "Colorado 
Desert/' he proposed another which reflected his British back- 
ground "Imperial Valley." Immediately the name, together 
with the luster of his own, gave the project a new reputation. 

Spurred by lavish boom literature, eager settlers were soon 
driving in from San Diego, Arizona, and all the Southwest. 
Excursion trains from Los Angeles were run over Southern 
Pacific tracks to the northern end of the valley. From there the 
newcomers were whisked southward by dust-caked stagecoach 
to the heart of Imperial, where land was free with the purchase 
of company "water scrip." 

In spite of intense heat, the valley looked inviting that summer. 
The spring overflow from the Colorado River had left much of 
the countryside green with grass, on which thousands of horses 
and cattle were contentedly grazing. By early 1 90 1 the population 
had jumped from zero to 1500, and the town of Imperial was 
mushrooming as fast as mule teams could bring in the lumber. 
In March the Imperial Press, first newspaper in the valley, 
blossomed with the jubilant slogan, "Water Is King: Here Is Its 

But what of the water? Until now the land had been settled 
in the promise of it, and farmers were plowing their first furrows 
in anticipation. The only thing still lacking was the same thing 
that had always been lacking water. 

The cause for delay, as usual, was financial. Rockwood and his 
associates had kept Chaffey from knowing the company's rickety 
condition, fearing that if he abandoned them the last chance 
to reclaim the Colorado Desert would be gone. Aside from the 
unpaid taxes, the company had failed to buy the key property 
through which the canal must run. Chaffey was outraged to find 
he had been used to rescue a tottering concern. But with settlers 


pouring into Imperial Valley on the strength of his participation 
in the scheme, he resolved to go ahead. Out of his own pocket 
came the money to pay off debts, buy the necessary land, and set 
the company on its feet. 

Late in November 1900 his crewmen attacked the big canal 
with dredge, plows, and a battery of shovels. Near the prom- 
ontory of Pilot Knob, just above the Mexican border, he built 
his wooden head gate to control the inflow of river water. An 
intervening range of shifting sand, the "walking hills" of the 
Colorado Desert, blocked his direct path to Imperial Valley. 
Swinging below them through Mexico, Chaffey carved his canal 
parallel with the Colorado River for over four miles, connecting 
with the ancient overflow channel known as the Alamo River. For 
the next fifty miles westward his task was merely to clear the 
brush and unnecessary bends from this ready-made canal. Finally, 
just below the point where it recrossed the border on its way 
to Salton Sink, he built another control works to divide the water 
into the valley's various irrigation canals. 

Scarcely five months after he broke ground Chaffey completed 
this blood stream to the thirsty lands of Imperial Valley. On May 
14, 1901, the old man went to his head gate near Pilot Knob 
to make the great diversion. Until this crucial test, no one could 
know for certain whether the giant experiment would succeed. 
But to his son in Los Angeles, Chaffey was able to send a simple 
telegram of cheer: 

"Water turned through gate at 1 1 A.M. Everything all right." 

Immediately the expectant valley sprang to life. At last the 
Imperial Press and its "Water Kingdom" could receive their king. 
Through the summer of 1901 crops of wheat and barley were 
sown as fast as water canals could be extended. By the spring of 
1902, when George Chaffey withdrew from the project after an 
eventful two years, 400 miles of distributing canals had been 
built to serve up to 100,000 acres of land. 

At the same time enthusiastic citizens decided their new 
empire needed the Iron Horse; they promptly founded the Im- 
perial and Gulf Railroad to connect with the Southern Pacific 
at the valley's northern end, boasting openly that the move was 
a bluff "to force the S.P. to build the road." Imperial's paper 
railroad kings did not wait long. Before the end of May the 


Southern Pacific stepped in according to plan and laid tracks 
into Imperial town by February 1 903. 

Trainloads of settlers, responding to a new deluge of adver- 
tising, poured in to bring the valley its first real boom. New towns 
Brawley, Holtville, El Centre sprang up out of the barren 
ground, first put together with boards and canvas, later with 
brick and mortar. Some 5000 people reached the valley that year, 
more than tripling its population. Crop acreage, standing at 
25,000 in the spring of 1903, jumped to 100,000 by December. 

To these incoming empire builders it was America's last farm 
frontier. Once again they were suffering under the same pioneer 
hardships of a generation before. At first they lived in tents and 
rude huts, lighted by candles or coal oil, without telephones or 
running water. During the winter they braved bitter frosts to 
tend their crops; by summer they sweated in the fields through 
desert heat that reached 125 degrees in the shade. The battle to 
bring civilization to this forbidding region was an American epic, 
fought with the characteristic raw courage and unyielding 
tenacity of the Frontier Farmer. 

But the builders of Imperial Valley were soon encountering 
other enemies beside the elements. The federal government, its 
enthusiasm for public irrigation projects fortified by the new 
Reclamation Act, was moving into the Southwest with a clumsy 
tread. Distrusting any development by private companies, it 
began to throw every possible obstacle in the way of Rockwood's 
scheme. In the fall of 1901 a pair of overzealous experts from 
the Department of Agriculture came into the valley, armed with 
hand augers and mortars for testing the soil. Their report, widely 
heralded and eagerly awaited by valley farmers, fell at last as a 
bombshell in January 1902. Over half the land in the valley, it 
calmly declared, "contains too much alkali to be safe, except for 
resistant crops. . . . For the worst lands," it concluded, "the best 
thing to do will be to immediately abandon them." 

To most of the valley farmers the report was absurd. Some 
of these very soil tests had been made in fields of shoulder-high 
grain. It was true that alkali lay under the rich topsoil washed 
in by Colorado floods, but it was too deep to affect production 
for many years to come. Melons, tomatoes, lettuce, cotton, grapes, 
and almost every farm product were growing in abundance, 


yielding prime market prices because they matured ahead of the 
national harvest. 

But for prospective settlers, the report loomed like a detour 
sign. Newspapers used it to attack Rockwood's California De- 
velopment Company as a gigantic fraud. Land sales fell off, and 
the entire project faced disaster. Finally the company's president, 
Anthony Heber, journeyed to Washington and discredited the 
report before the Secretary of Agriculture. A reinvestigation was 
promptly made which restored the valley's reputation before it 
was too late. 

Imperial was booming once more when the government turned 
its guns on the project's legal title to land and water. Suddenly 
it developed that the original land survey had been erroneous; 
every title in the valley was therefore faulty, and until the matter 
was cleared the government claimed it all as public land. 

Then the C. D. Company fell into a squabble over water rights 
with the newly established Reclamation Service, which claimed 
that the federal government had sole jurisdiction over the Colo- 
rado River. In an argument with J. B. Lippincott, chief engineer 
for the service in the Southwest, Anthony Heber made a regret- 
table boast: the 10,000 second-feet claimed by the company, he 
declared, was enough to hold practical control of the whole river. 

"You are taking the water illegally," retorted Lippincott, "and 
we can stop you in a moment." 

"I don't think you will do it will you?" challenged Heber. 
"Because it would certainly injure those people very much, and 
if you do we will have to lean upon the Mexican Government. 
We will certainly connect the river . . . below the line, which we 
can do in twenty-four hours' time." 

The question was left unsettled, and when the Imperial people 
heard of the conversation alarm spread through the valley. 
Mass meetings were held over this threat to their water supply; 
telegrams were dispatched to Washington asking recognition of 
the project's rights. With its credit sinking and its settlers clamor- 
ing for action, the C. D. Company moved in self-defense. Heber 
hurried to Washington early in 1904 to urge a bill in Congress 
legalizing the diversion of Colorado water. The Interior Depart- 
ment fought him before the legislative committee, whereupon 
Heber made his famous threat : 


"It is my earnest desire to worship at our own altar and to 
receive the blessing from the shrine of our own government, but 
if such permission is not given, of necessity I will be compelled to 
worship elsewhere." 

True to his word, Heber stormed out of Washington when his 
request was denied and made his way to Mexico City. There he 
asked for a water concession below the border, but found authori- 
ties unwilling to grant it without a stipulation that up to half 
of any water taken through the canal should be used on the 
Mexican side. 

The terms were hard, but Heber could do nothing but sub- 
mit. Without an unclouded right somewhere on the river his 
company would be ruined, and Imperial Valley must wither 
and die. Besides, a new difficulty was also forcing an abandon- 
ment of the American intake. The initial four miles of the canal, 
constructed without sufficient grade for a swift flow, had be- 
come so filled with Colorado silt that in low periods the valley 
found its lifeblood practically choked off. With the farmers 
already suing the company for failing to deliver enough water, 
Heber was desperate. In July 1904 he signed the concession and 
ordered Rockwood to make the Mexican cut. 

Plans for a controlling head gate on the proposed intake were 
quickly submitted to Mexico City for approval. But after months 
of exasperating delay Rockwood found the fall irrigating season 
approaching with the Mexican cut still unbuilt. He hesitated to 
make the opening without a head gate for control, but after 
checking on the river's flood history, he was satisfied to take the 

In October 1904, Rockwood completed the short ditch be- 
tween the river and the canal at a point four miles south of the 
border, opposite a prominent island in the channel. Water was 
soon flowing through it toward the valley, to the relief of its 
farmers. In one stroke Heber and Rockwood had foiled the gov- 
ernment's attempt to deny their water rights, and had by-passed 
the silt-choked portion of the Imperial Canal. 

But the C. D. Company had reckoned without the unpredictable 
Colorado. The great brown current wound through its tree-lined 
channel like an endless snake, gliding in apparent calm during 
its low stage, but rearing its angry head to threaten everything 


within reach in time of flood. For four years it had flowed on in 
silent wrath while man had toyed with its power, drawing off 
part of its body into the ancient inland basin. 

Did these canal builders want more water in Imperial Valley? 
Very well ; the brown serpent had been building up the bed of its 
channel for decades, preparing once again to switch its course 
away from the gulf and into the blind sink to the north. 

9: Runaway River 

Beginning early in February 1905, desert cloudbursts sent a series 
of floods pouring down the Gila River, the Colorado tributary 
whose branches drained most of Arizona. Laden with logs and 
debris, its reddish waters emptied into the main stream at Yuma 
and hurtled onward toward the gulf. 

The first two freshets swirled by Rockwood's Mexican cut, 
merely silting up part of its opening. Such floods were unusual 
and short-lived; Rockwood was unconcerned, intending to dam 
up the breach before the spring floods of the main Colorado. 

But early in March a third freshet raged down the channel 
with twice the volume of the other two. Swinging headlong 
through Rockwood's cut, it eroded the entrance to an alarming 
size. The engineer now found his main problem was not to get 
enough water for Imperial farmers but to keep out more water 
than was needed. Immediately a makeshift dam was begun across 
the gap. A floating pile driver pounded three rows of poles in 
the swirling water while hard-working crewmen filled the spaces 
between with brush and sandbags. Only a six-foot gap remained 
when the Gila rose in its fourth flood. It struck the Mexican 
heading on March 18, washing out Rockwood's miserable dam 
like a pile of straw. 

Imperial Valley was in serious trouble now. There was no 
record of such winter floods in the river's history. Although the 
settlers were unaware of it, this was the moment in geologic 
time when the Colorado was making another of its periodic 
switches from the gulf into its northern basin. Man's fumbling 
work was merely hastening the process. 


One more desperate attempt was made to close the gap before 
the regular spring floods. But in May 1905 the rising tide of the 
Colorado found the workings still unfinished. Long and sustained 
in contrast to the sudden winter flashes out of the Gila, the annual 
spring flood slowly undermined the entire dam. Rockwood 
abandoned it to the river's fury in June. With almost half of 
the Colorado pouring through the hole toward Imperial Valley, 
the distraught engineer could only stand by in helpless insignifi- 
cance and wait for the flood to pass. 

But in the valley itself continual flooding of the Alamo channel 
brought general alarm. All at once the people realized that the 
river was out of control. Already the Salton Sink at the valley's 
lowest point had been turned into a vast and sparkling Salton Sea, 
rising several inches a day. If the breach could not be stopped, 
they feared, it would keep on growing till it reached sea level 
and the whole of their bright new empire would be submerged 
like some lost civilization. 

Frantically Heber and Rockwood appealed to the Southern 
Pacific, which was already forced to move its valley tracks to 
higher ground by the encroachment of the Salton Sea. They 
pointed out that the railroad was doing a promising business in 
Imperial Valley and could not afford to let it die. When its 
California officials hesitated, Rockwood went to New York and 
approached Edward H. Harriman, the railroad's iron-fisted 
president. While still in his forties, the dynamic financier con- 
trolled enough railroad to make him the dominant figure in 
American transportation. Without hesitation he agreed to loan 
$200,000 a sum which dwarfed other river investments but 
on condition that the Southern Pacific take temporary control 
of the California Development Company. 

Rockwood jubilantly returned to the valley in mid- June, con- 
fident that the river would be tamed. But his spirits were soon 
shattered by another trick of the devilish Colorado. When the 
summer flood subsided, the island opposite the Mexican intake 
showed itself above the surface; before the valley engineers could 
stop it, the entire right half of the Colorado had been deflected 
into the Imperial Canal. 

Confined in this narrow passage, the river was forced to grind 
its way deeper into the soft ground, forming a deep canyon which 


soon cut itself back upstream to the north end of the island. 
Then the flow on the Arizona side abandoned its course and 
swung headlong into the Mexican cut. When Rockwood arrived 
to find the entire Colorado River leaving its channel and driving 
straight toward Imperial Valley, he realized that this was as 
serious a problem "as had ever before confronted any engineer 
upon the American continent." 

Down from his headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, came Epes 
Randolph, the engineer whom Harriman had named as the new 
president of the G. D. Company. Builder of most of Southern 
California's Pacific Electric Railway system, Randolph had been 
Harriman's shrewd and active lieutenant for several years. At 
sight of the runaway river he telegraphed his chief that no 
$200,000 could save the valley. There was no telling the ultimate 
cost, he advised, but warned that it "might easily run into three 
quarters of a million dollars." 

From New York came Harriman's answer: "Are you certain 
you can put the river back into the old channel?" 

"I am certain that it can be done," Randolph replied. 

"Go ahead and do it," concluded the railroad president. 

The decision was made. Harriman meant to stop the river with- 
out regard to cost. Rockwood thereupon threw himself into the 
task once more; between the northern end of the island and the 
Mexican shore he began building a new brush dam in July 1905, 
determined to deflect the entire river down the Arizona channel. 
Starting at the island, a floating pile driver pounded logs into 
the river bed, while a crew of Mexican laborers struggled to fasten 
a brush mattress in place. 

Against this obstruction the river began to deposit a bank 
of silt, helping to form its own barrier. But after a half-mile sand 
bar had been formed the concentration of the channel in the 
last 125 feet made the torrent too unruly. Logs and brush mattings 
were no sooner rammed into the breach than they were up- 
rooted and swallowed up by the current. 

Rockwood gave up at last. The Mexican shore, little more than 
a log's length away, was in reality as distant as ever. Some 
$30,000 had so far been spent without effect. 

With the autumn irrigating season approaching once more, 
Rockwood conceived a plan to stop the river and still leave a 


controlled flow of water into Imperial Valley. At a point down 
the canal from its opening he would build a by-pass containing 
a wooden head gate, through which the water could be diverted 
while a heavy rock dam was flung across the crevasse. Then the 
flashboards of the gate could be closed, the water would find its 
path barred, and gravity would force its return to the regular 
Colorado channel. Rockwood's gate would remain, however, to 
permit a certain flow into the canal for the crops in Imperial 
Valley. After getting Randolph's approval of the scheme, Rock- 
wood left the details to others and turned to his office tasks as 
general manager for the C. D. Company. 

Into his place at the river came the Southern Pacific's chief 
bridge-building engineer, F. S. Edinger. Distrusting Rockwood's 
head-gate scheme, he abandoned it and began raising another 
dam, between the island and the Mexican shore. Once again 
brush mattresses were woven between log pilings, but on this 
foundation were dumped tons of heavy rocks which gave promise 
of stopping the river. By the end of November, with only three 
feet of water flowing over the dam, the river fighters were ready 
to deliver the final blow that would divert the Colorado out of 
Imperial Valley and back into the Gulf of California. 

On the twenty-ninth the Gila River came hurtling out of 
Arizona with 100,000 second-feet of floodwater and a grinding 
cargo of logs and debris. It washed out miles of Southern Pacific 
tracks west of Yuma and rolled onward for the Imperial intake. 
All night long it battered Edinger's nearly completed dam with 
its irresistible mass of driftwood. Next morning, with the fury 
spent, the engineer found only the stumps of pilings showing 
above the river's surface to mark the grave of his broken dam. 

Two thirds of the island had been washed away by the flood; 
through the crevasse, now grown to 600 feet, the Colorado was 
pouring unchecked into the Imperial Canal. One observer com- 
mented bitterly that they "might as well attempt to plug an open 
faucet with a postage stamp as to stop this flow by brushwood 

A few days later Epes Randolph arrived at the Mexican break 
to view the disaster with Edinger, who resigned as engineer-in- 
charge. Rockwood was also there, angrily pointing out that it was 
Edinger's abandonment of his head-gate plan that had brought 


on the debacle. To his delight Randolph ordered him to proceed 
with his head gate. 

The veteran river fighter promptly dropped his office chores 
and threw himself wholeheartedly into the new construction. In 
mid-December 1905, after hurriedly gathering men and equip- 
ment, he broke ground for his gate in a proposed by-pass just 
north of the canal opening. When this was completed he meant 
to build a rock-fill dam across the canal itself to divert the Colo- 
rado through the by-pass and its controlling gate. But Rockwood 
knew he must hasten; the entire process must be completed be- 
fore the Colorado's spring floods arrived to throw too great a 
strain on the head gate. 

Work therefore proceeded at a furious pace. In the by-pass his 
crewmen laid a great wooden platform, upon which a row of 
massive A-shaped frames the backbone of the gate gradually 
took shape. Yet in spite of night and day shifts, Rockwood found 
construction falling behind schedule. Early in April 1906 the 
gate was complete enough to allow the river to be diverted 
through it; but before he could begin dumping rock for his 
diversion dam across the canal Rockwood saw the Colorado rising 
once more. The annual spring flood had caught up with him 
just soon enough to prevent operation of the gate. Already twice 
as much water was rushing through the canal as the head gate 
was built to control. There was nothing to do but wait for weeks 
while the flood raged on and then subsided. Once again the 
relentless Colorado had thwarted its would-be captors. 

Still Rockwood knew that this delay was inviting disaster. 
Even now the silt-laden waters were gouging out the banks of the 
crevasse, widening it to half a mile. From the delta country came 
word that the river was already overflowing the canal banks 
and spreading over the land. The inland body known as Volcano 
Lake was filled competely, with the surplus spilling northward 
to the border. Mexican families, homeless and bewildered, were 
fleeing before the blanket of water. 

Rockwood had spent practically all of the $200,000 advanced 
by Harriman of the S.P., and the situation was more alarming 
than ever. The only remaining hope was that the financier could 
be induced to cast aside the rules of business and throw more good 
money after bad. 


But on April 18, 1906, disaster struck in another quarter. 
The earthquake on that fateful day was scarcely felt in Imperial 
Valley, but from the north came ugly word of catastrophe. San 
Francisco, standing in the path of the San Andreas Fault, was 
shattered and set afire. For the men fighting the river below the 
border the main tragedy was the demolition of this heart of 
the Southern Pacific rail system. Traffic was paralyzed; trains 
were backed up to Cheyenne in one direction, to Los Angeles in 
another. Harriman and Randolph both hurried to the bay to take 
personal charge. In the face of this tragedy, further Southern 
Pacific help in fighting the river now seemed a forlorn hope. 

But Harriman, having tackled the Colorado, was not inclined 
to retreat. With all San Francisco prostrate about him, with his 
rail system taxed to the limit in rescue work, Harriman yet 
remembered Imperial Valley. Before the end of April he gave 
$250,000 to stop the break in the Colorado River. Behind that 
was as much more as was needed. 

Even with Harriman's help there was no hope of stopping the 
river until the spring flood subsided. One of the highest annual 
rises in the river's history was pouring headlong into Imperial 
Valley; now it was the settlers' turn to fight the monster and 
protect their homes and crops. 

Out of the delta country below the border the floodwaters 
came hurtling into the valley through two ancient channels the 
New River and the Alamo. At the north end the Salton Sea was 
rising seven inches a day, placing a salt refining works sixty feet 
under water by June 1 906. Time after time the Southern Pacific 
found its tracks awash and hurriedly moved them to higher 
ground. Below the border its Mexican line was completely sub- 
merged for miles. 

All at once the valley people discovered a new threat from 
the treacherous Colorado. As its volume rose to 70,000, then 
100,000 second-feet, it began to gouge out more elbow room in 
the channels. At every bend the silt-laden current struck angrily 
against the banks, undermining whole blocks of soft earth which 
cracked off and plunged into the roaring current. 

Worse still, the flood in New River began to scour deeper into 
the bed itself. Starting at its mouth in Salton Sea, a cataract was 
formed in the stream bottom where the muddy water gouged into 


the silt. The cutting action against the lip of the waterfall forced 
it to move steadily backward and upstream, toward the Imperial 
farm settlements and border towns. Within a few days the cataract 
grew to twenty feet in height, at the same time widening the 
channel to massive proportions. If it reached the regular Colo- 
rado channel at the Mexican break, all hope of damming the 
madcap river would be lost. 

Over on the Alamo channel the same appalling phenomenon 
had occurred. A waterfall was cutting southward at more than 
half a mile a day, and by early June was bearing down on the 
Southern Pacific railroad bridge east of Brawley on the Los 
Angeles line the only remaining route out of the valley. Fran- 
tically the Imperial farmers turned to their ripening cantaloupe 
crops. If that destructive cataract destroyed the trestle before the 
melons could be harvested and shipped, financial ruin would be 
added to the threat of inundation. On June 14, 1906, with the 
Alamo falls scarcely a day away from the bridge, every farm 
family in central Imperial Valley was in the field stripping the 
cantaloupe vines. From all directions a stream of wagons trundled 
into the railway station at Brawley, where busy packers loaded 
the melons into crates and filled the waiting boxcars. Next day, 
after working through a sleepless night, the people saw the last 
trainload pull out for the Alamo crossing. The cataract had 
reached the bridge, but Southern Pacific crewmen had braced it 
enough to stand the strain. Cautiously the final cars were shuttled 
over the torrent and sent safely northward to the Los Angeles 

Farther south toward the Mexican break the rising floodwaters 
were even more threatening. Near El Centro the torrent broke 
through the levee of the Central Main Canal, putting the streets 
of Imperial town under water and drowning out the surrounding 
farmlands. Here again every family turned out this time to fight 
the water itself. Crews of desperate men, working feverishly to 
dam the flood, threw sandbags and brush mattresses into the 
breach. When gunny sacks gave out, local merchants emptied 
flour and grain bags, and housewives sewed more out of any cloth 
available. After three days of battle they plugged the gap, forced 
the angry current back down the canal, and rescued most of the 
nearby farms. 


At the border, where New River ran through the edge of Ca- 
lexico and Mexicali, the monster was taking worse toll. With the 
river undercutting its banks and widening by the hour, it was 
soon threatening to engulf the very buildings of the towns. In 
Calexico the people threw up a sandbag levee and fought to main- 
tain it against the flood. But in neighboring Mexicali, located on 
the very banks of the river, native families were already fleeing 
before the waters. By the last of June house after house was top- 
pling into the current. As it undercut the banks, great chunks 
of the soft ground broke off, carrying with them whatever struc- 
tures they supported. Larger buildings were first undermined 
gradually, then, after teetering on the brink, would be shocked 
by a heavy wave and sent thundering into the maelstrom. 

After the first excitement the townspeople turned to watch the 
river's advance with philosophical abandon. Standing near the 
edge of the bank, their view almost obscured by clouds of dust 
rising from the crash of earth, they watched with fascination 
while the brown serpent slowly devoured Mexicali. 

With the Southern Pacific depot threatened, engineer Jack 
Carrillo hurried up from his losing fight to protect company 
tracks below the border; his first sight of the situation told him 
no human effort could save the town so long as the flood raged. 
From Los Angeles came H. V. Platt, general superintendent of 
S.P. lines from the coast to El Paso. Debarking at Galexico, he 
strode across the line to find Carrillo lounging in the shade of an 
adobe wall, joining the rest of Mexicali in cool resignation. His 
nonchalance, even while the S.P. freight station was being under- 
mined, infuriated the officious Platt. 

"What the devil are you doing to stop this?" he demanded 

Carrillo lit a cigarette before answering. "Not a God damn 
thing. What do you suggest?" 

A few moments later, while the S.P. superintendent watched 
helplessly, the building crumpled and slid over the bank. With 
a roar and a shower of water it struck the surface and floated 
onward in pieces. The Southern Pacific officially surrendered to 
the inevitable. 

Farther down New River, crews of men were dynamiting the 
cataract which was cutting its way upstream in the bed of the 


channel. If this process of deepening the walls of the river could 
be accelerated, the cutback might reach Calexico in time to lower 
the level of the floodwaters and save the town. Into the turgid 
stream they would send a boat, from which dynamite charges 
were planted and exploded upstream from the waterfall. Whole 
blocks of earth broke up and toppled forward, causing the cut- 
back to move upstream at a hurried pace. 

The people of the border towns waited expectantly for the 
approaching cataract, while the flood continued to engulf Mexi- 
cali. A brick hotel followed the railroad station into the current. 
Thousands of acres of nearby farmlands were destroyed. Early 
in July, with the waters lapping at the S.P. depot on the Ameri- 
can side in Calexico, the cutback roared past the town. The flood 
tide dropped fifty feet into the chasm it created, and as the cata- 
ract pressed onward upstream, the cutting of the banks ceased. 
More than half of Mexicali, and practically all of Calexico, were 

Now the immediate problem was to stop the cataract itself, 
before it reached the break in the Colorado and destroyed any 
chance of stopping the flood. In the delta swamps of Lower 
California the crews worked furiously to curb the same cutback 
they had been trying to hasten. Brush dams were thrown in the 
path of the waterfall; at first it merely swallowed them and 
thundered onward. At last the river fighters broke the single 
channel into smaller fingers, and one by one succeeded in stop- 
ping each cutback with brush weirs. Once again man had beaten 
the river, but not before it had lowered its bed by many feet, left 
thousands of farm acres without hope of water, and devastated 
thousands more by flood. 

The raging Colorado, pouring its full flow into the Salton Sea, 
still hung as a threat over Imperial's very life. At the first sign 
that the flood crest had passed, the Southern Pacific moved once 
more to dam the Mexican break. Charles Rockwood, whose blun- 
dering cut had first brought on this calamity, had resigned as 
engineer in charge when the 1906 flood had begun to rise in 
April. Epes Randolph, president of the C. D. Company, then 
sent for Harry T. Cory, one of the crack construction engineers 
for the Southern Pacific. A Midwestern college professor while 
still in his early twenties, young Cory had made a brilliant name 

for himself in active railroad engineering. He brought to the 
Colorado fight the rare combination of painstaking theoretical 
planning and bold leadership on the ground. Having already seen 
the Mexican break on several inspection trips, Cory was thor- 
oughly acquainted with the situation when Randolph called him 
to his Tucson office and placed him in charge. Before he left, 
Cory remembered the question of finances. 

"The expense," he inquired. "How far can I go?" 

"Damn the expense!" roared Randolph, who commanded al- 
most unlimited S.P. funds. "Just stop that river!" 

Cory returned to the Mexican break in July 1 906 and immedi- 
ately stirred the camp into action. First a nine-mile branch of the 
Southern Pacific line was built by Jack Carrillo, chief of railroad 
operations, to provide a reliable line of supplies to the break. 
Blasting was begun at the quarry near Pilot Knob to supply rocks 
for the dam construction. From the Union Pacific, another Harri- 
man line, Cory borrowed three hundred special dumping cars 
known as battleships. Faced with a labor shortage, the engineer 
recruited a small army of Indian laborers from half a dozen 
desert tribes, who soon proved themselves the only humans capa- 
ble of such strenuous work in midsummer heat. 

On August 6, 1906, when the Colorado flood receded to a 
mild 24,000 second-feet, Cory opened his attack. Across the cur- 
rent, now narrowed to a maximum of seven hundred feet, he 
began building a wooden railroad trestle. Two pile drivers worked 
from opposite banks toward midstream, pounding in ninety-foot 
logs as fast as Carrillo's locomotives could supply them. Ahead 
of each driver floated a barge from which gangs of Indians laid 
a brush mattress in the current as a foundation for the poles. A 
pair of single-stacked, stern-wheel steamboats, the Searchlight 
and the St. V oilier, churned up and down the canal bringing 
piles of fresh-cut arrowweed and willow brush for the Indian 
mattress weavers. Through this pandemonium the Colorado 
flowed quietly on, apparently unaware that man was laying a 
trap to end its yearlong spree in Imperial Valley. 

At the same time Cory was strengthening Rockwood's massive 
head gate, which had lain unused in the proposed by-pass north 
of the crevasse. Largest gate of its type in the world, it was de- 
signed to permit a regulated flow into the canal after the trestle 


dam was finished. The farmers of Imperial, having watched the 
entire Colorado pouring in upon them for so many months, 
would find their very existence cut off were the flow stopped 

In mid-August the railroad trestle completely spanned the 
channel. Long lines of battleships, laden with granite boulders, 
rumbled past Rockwood's gate and onto the trestle. Directing the 
rock dumping was lean, hard-bitten Tom Hind, Cory's engineer 
in charge of construction. Under his orders the cars were arrayed 
on the trestle like a firing line. Into the brown current on the 
upstream side the great boulders were dumped by straining men 
with crowbars. With each new attack the pilings trembled and 
the river sent sprays of water over the workmen, sometimes damp- 
ening the fireboxes of the locomotives. 

Night and day the work went on, with Hind's crews fighting 
to dump rock faster than the river could carry it away. At length 
the great submerged dam began to raise the level of the current; 
foot by foot, while the thunder and tumult of the rock barrage 
gave the scene an air of battle, Tom Hind's dam reared upward 
under the trestle's feet. 

By the end of summer the trap was almost ready to be sprung. 
Still no one knew whether Rockwood's gate would hold against 
the Colorado's force. The flow had scarcely dropped to the top 
capacity of the gate, and might vary widely from day to day. 
Cory, however, could not afford to wait. The entire process of 
capturing the river in the gate and diverting it back toward the 
gulf must be finished before the Gila River rose in one of its 
rampaging fall floods. 

Late in September he cut open the mouth of the by-pass and 
turned the river through the Rockwood gate. But before he could 
prevent it the sides and bottom of the giant structure began to 
erode away. Quickly he built another trestle across the by-pass a 
few yards upstream from the gate, making ready to dump rock 
and dam this final channel if the head gate weakened. 

On the morning of October n the driftwood accumulating 
against the new trestle suddenly battered out two rows of pilings. 
The tracks sagged and toppled several cars off the bridge. Three 
hours later the lashing of the torrent and debris buckled the 
Rockwood gate. With a great crashing and splintering the mam- 


moth structure uprooted itself and rose with the current. While 
Cory and his men watched aghast, two thirds of it broke loose 
and swung ponderously downstream. 

Within two hundred feet it struck against the original trestle 
which crossed the by-pass on its way to the dam. A work train 
stood south of the trestle at the time, its line of retreat imperiled 
by the battering of the head gate. With whistle screaming and 
throttle jammed forward, the doughty engineer took the long 
chance. His cars thundered over the trestle to the north side 
just before it collapsed into the maelstrom. 

With all control of the by-pass gone, the entire Colorado 
promptly deserted the submerged dam and swung full force 
through the gap, scouring out a complete channel for itself. The 
top of the dam, over which several feet of water had been pass- 
ing, now stood entirely dry. Once again the brown serpent had 
slithered out of man's grasp. The work of months had been 
destroyed by the diabolical Colorado in a few minutes' time. 

Epes Randolph came down from Tucson and surveyed the 
wreckage. Joining him on the banks of the angry torrent, Harry 
Cory vented his exasperation. 

"Let's quit fooling with gates," he shouted against the roar. 
"What this feller needs is rock, and more rock, and more rock." 

Randolph and Cory inspected the rock barrier across the old 
canal mouth, and found it staunch and solid. In nineteen months 
of battling the river this trestle-and-rock method had alone proved 
successful. There was nothing to do but follow Cory's plan. The 
river would be dammed without a head gate, and the farmers of 
Imperial might lose their precious water. Still there was a possi- 
bility of opening up the silted four-mile channel from the original 
Chaffey gate on American soil, where the railroad had recently 
installed a new concrete intake. The river tamers resolved to 
blast open this choked canal with dynamite, and close the lower 
heading forever. To the people of the Southwest, awaiting the 
verdict of these men, Randolph made a public statement before 
returning to Tucson. 

"The collapse of the wooden head gate," he told the press, 
"does not mean that the company will fail to control the river. 
It merely means a delay." 

Quickly Harry Cory flung himself and his organization back 


into the battle. They must make haste, for if the Gila loosed one 
of its floods before the dam was finished, the entire works would 
again be swept away. 

This time laborers were recruited throughout the desert coun- 
try, and a thousand men were turned against the river. Six work 
trains were soon shuttling over the spur tracks, bringing tons of 
materials for the fight. First Cory repaired the damaged trestle 
below the site of Rockwood's gate, and sent another out into the 
channel beside it. Four thudding pile drivers, working from both 
sides toward the middle, pounded poles through the brush mat- 
tresses laid in the stream by Indian crews. Even by night, while 
a string of lanterns spanned the channel, men and machines 
grappled with the torrent in midstream. 

Late in October the two railroad trestles were finished across 
the channel. Immediately Hind began dumping rock in the space 
between them as fast as trains could arrive from the quarries. 
Boulders too big to be rolled off the cars were broken up with 
"shots" of dynamite. Rock was soon raining into the stream at 
the rate of a carload every five minutes. 

The angry current, unable to wash away the barrier faster than 
it was built, slid over its top and passed on. Harry Cory knew 
from his calculations the exact number of days required to lift 
the river to the level of the old channel, thus sending it once 
more on its way to the Gulf of California. 

By October 29 ninety per cent of the flow had been diverted 
back to the original Colorado bed. Six more days of continual 
rock dumping brought almost the whole length of the dam to the 
level of the main Colorado's surface. All night long on November 
3 the rock crews fought against the river's final throes. Just at 
dawn someone paused enough to notice a change in the stream. 

"Look!" he shouted. "The water has stopped rising. The river 
is stationary!" 

The frustrated waters were indeed swirling back into the an- 
cient channel, their eighteen-month spree at an end. For the rest 
of the morning, under the insistence of Hind and Cory, the river 
fighters toiled on to pack the dam and insure their victory. By 
noon the cautious engineers announced to the men that the battle 
was won. Then from one end of the trestles to the other rolled 
a long, heroic cheer. Epes Randolph, on hand to witness the 
triumph, promptly wired a sober report to Los Angeles. 


"The channel leading to Salton Sea is closed. . . . The old 
channel is carrying the normal flow to the gulf." 

All Southern California, which had stood by in helpless con- 
cern for eighteen months while the Colorado threatened its lower 
valley, now turned to its regular cares with relief. The farmers 
of Imperial rejoiced, with hearty words for the Southern Pacific. 
Even while permanently closing the break, the company was also 
blasting out the silted portion of the original Chaffey canal. By 
early December it was bringing in water through the new con- 
crete head gate north of the border. Not a crop in the valley was 
lost for lack of water that season. 

The menace of flood remained, but this was fast being curbed 
by mop-up work under Cory's direction. For three weeks his mule 
teams and scrapers, rail cars and dredges, made the dirt fly along 
the Colorado's banks. Gravel and clay were poured into the cracks 
of the rock dam and dampened with fire hoses. On both sides of 
the former break, for nine miles paralleling the river, the great 
earth levees were extended to hold the waters at the next flood. 

The river tamers had not long to wait for the test. Cory and 
Hind were in Yuma when a sudden Arizona cloudburst filled the 
arms of the Gila. On December 5, 1906, the Colorado rose from 
9000 second-feet to a raging 45,000 below the Gila's mouth. It 
swirled down the channel toward the gulf, licking at the banks 
of Cory's levees as it passed. Close behind came the alarmed engi- 
neers, leaving Yuma on an early morning work train and reach- 
ing the lower Mexican heading before dawn. A quarter mile 
south of Tom Hind's dam they found three new breaks in the 
levee. To their utter dismay they realized that one was already 
beyond control. The brown monster was eating its way through 
the banks, and at any moment would completely bisect the levee 
and its railroad tracks. 

Remembering the grading crew still working on the defenses 
several miles to the south, Cory sent the steamboat Searchlight 
chugging down the river to rescue them before the shifting Colo- 
rado left them stranded. The chubby stern-wheeler had picked 
up the men and was steaming up the tree-lined channel when 
the flood suddenly ran dry. To the northward, where the anxious 
engineers watched from the banks, the river had elbowed out a 
wide crevasse and was pouring headlong back into the Imperial 


Canal. The frustrated Searchlight was abandoned in the dry 
channel an incongruous creature in the midst of the barren 
Colorado Desert. 

Once again the mighty river was hurtling downhill toward 
Volcano Lake, New River, and its inland prison, the Salton Sea. 
Cory and his engineers stood by in helpless fury with $1,500,000 
and the work of months swept away in twenty-four hours. "The 
battle is on once more," wired a correspondent of the Los Angeles 

This time the break-through proved to most observers that the 
Colorado had, in the course of centuries, reached the stage of 
leaving the gulf once more and swinging north into the dead sea 
its delta had created. The inevitable process had merely been 
hastened by Rockwood's original Mexican cut. For the first time 
the engineers realized the full magnitude of the geological forces 
they had been fighting. The menace of the river, now made more 
threatening with each passing year, could not be left to the paper 
protection of the C. D. Company's sand levees. Nothing less than 
twenty miles of rock dams packed tight with clay and gravel 
would safely control it perhaps. 

Cory could do nothing immediately; the crews and equipment 
gathered for the first closure were now scattered over the South- 
west. Epes Randolph, hurrying down from Tucson, joined him in 
relaying the tragic news to Harriman in New York. The Southern 
Pacific chief, who had already poured a fortune into the river, 
had reached the end of his magnificent patience. He notified his 
lieutenants that this new break was not the responsibility of the 
railroad. If Imperial Valley was to be saved, the burden must be 
borne proportionately by other interested parties, including the 
settlers and the government. 

When the valley people heard this decision they gathered in a 
mass meeting at the town of Imperial on December 13. The 
Southern Pacific, they were told, would use its organization and 
equipment to stop the runaway river if money could be raised 
to pay the bills. The alarmed farmers, facing renewed danger to 
their valley, had little choice. Before the conference was over 
nearly a million dollars had been subscribed from the people 

On the same day, at the other end of the continent, E. H. 

Harriman sent a telegram to the White House. Describing the 
threat to all of Imperial Valley, including considerable govern- 
ment land, Harriman concluded that "it does not seem fair that 
we should be called to do more than join in to help the settlers." 

For years Harriman had been a close friend of Theodore 
Roosevelt. Recently, however, the President had turned on the 
railroad magnate in his furious anti-trust campaign. Back from 
Washington came a terse reply to Harriman's telegram : 

"I assume you are planning to continue work immediately on 
closing break in Colorado River." 

Harriman shot back his refusal, and for a week in mid-Decem- 
ber the titans fired telegrams at each other while the Colorado 
rolled on into the Salton Sea. Cory and his engineers occupied 
the time in assembling the vast machinery and manpower neces- 
sary for the job they knew must be done. Fifteen hundred laborers 
were recruited throughout the Southwest at top wages. Rock 
quarries were opened as far away as five hundred miles. Hun- 
dreds of cars were commandeered, and the line from Yuma to the 
break was double-tracked under the direction of Jack Carrillo. 
Pile drivers and barges, tents and commissaries were hastily as- 
sembled. Tom Hind was placed in charge of strengthening the 
levee system on either side of the crevasse, while the actual task 
of closing the gap was given to C. K. Clarke, an experienced 
S.P. engineer. With him Cory hastily conferred over charts and 
diagrams, planning to extend the Hind dam with two parallel 
trestle structures which would wall up the break forever. Then 
the ponderous organization of men and machines waited on the 
banks of the runaway river while the two presidents settled 
finances in their "battle of the telegrams." 

On December 19, Harriman answered that he had already 
thrown in $2,000,000 and did not feel justified in spending more. 
After conferring hastily with Washington officials, Roosevelt 
wired back that nothing could be done by the government with- 
out an agreement with Mexico and an act of Congress. 

"Incumbent upon you to close break again," he pleaded. 

Harriman wearily answered that the S.P. was not responsible 
for the debacle. "However," he added, "in view of your message 
I am giving authority to the Southern Pacific engineers in the 
West to proceed at once with efforts to repair the break. ..." 


"Am delighted to receive your telegram," sent back Teddy, 
promising to urge financial aid from Congress. On the same day 
Harriman flashed the long-awaited signal to his staff at the 
front: "Turn the river at all costs!" 

Instantly Cory's gigantic machinery shifted into action. To a 
score of sidings and quarries throughout the Southwest he wired 
a single order, "Go!" Waiting wheels began to turn, and Jack 
Carrillo's rock cars rumbled southward for the Mexican break. 
The first trainloads were dumped in rapid succession on the Hind 
dam, widening it for the double-track extension. 

Then across the new i loo-foot crevasse C. K. Clarke started 
his trestle. Pile drivers swung into motion from each bank, with 
the lower crewmen supplied by cross-channel barges. They found 
the current faster, more turbulent than ever before. But Cory 
could not wait for the Gila's flood to subside. If the spring rise 
of the Colorado caught the works unfinished, all their efforts and 
expense would be destroyed. 

The slow process of mattress weaving was discarded, and the 
two ends of the trestle inched out into the torrent with no founda- 
tion but the sandy bed of the crevasse. Men fought to steady each 
ninety-foot pole against the powerful current, while a creaking 
cable hauled the pile hammer to the top of the driver's frame. 
Then it dropped with a crash that all but toppled the rig into 
the river, leaving the beaten pile quivering like a bowstring. So 
great was the danger of overturning the pile drivers that row- 
boats were stationed downstream to pick up any man who might 
slip into the river. 

Three days after Christmas the Gila turned itself loose again 
with another flash flood from the Arizona mountains. Part of the 
torrent carried past the break down the old Colorado channel 
and provided enough water to refloat the stranded steamer 
Searchlight. The stubby puffer plowed its way upstream to join 
the river tamers at the crevasse. 

But the main force of the Gila's second freshet had rampaged 
through the break into the canal. The last piles were being driven 
on Cory's trestle when the debris-laden flood struck it headlong. 
Out went a part of its pilings ; a third of the trestle sagged, ripped 
off, and disappeared down the channel. Laboriously the crew set 
about to mend the broken ends as soon as the flood began to 


subside. Into the brown current the pile drivers pounded their 
shafts once more. 

But in the first weeks of January 1907 the Gila continued to 
pour a battering ram into the crevasse with every desert cloud- 
burst. It was one of the wettest winters on record in the South- 
west, and Cory's weary workers were getting the brunt of it on 
their backs. Twice more, when the trestle was nearly finished, 
a Gila freshet roared into the break and tore part of it away. 
Gory was using up pilings so fast that a frantic telegram finally 
reached him from S.P. headquarters: 

"We have exhausted all available supply of piles in San Diego 
and Southern California." 

Yet by mid-January 1907 the trestle was nearly finished for 
the fourth time, with enough piles on hand to complete it. Epes 
Randolph was on the scene with Cory, watching his men struggle 
to place the last of the poles in thirty feet of rushing water. The 
two engineers hoped desperately that the current would recede 
before the time came for rock dumping. Otherwise, they feared 
they could not pour rock and gravel into the river faster than it 
would be washed away. But on the twentieth their telegraph 
operator took a message from Arizona: "Gila is rising." Ran- 
dolph turned away in resignation; it seemed that the fates and 
the Gila were conspiring against them. 

"No rock dumping until next week," he calmly announced. 

Through the fourth week in January his crewmen watched 
the flood roll by, sometimes fighting to clear the driftwood as it 
lodged against the trestle. At length the current subsided with 
the works still intact. By the twenty-seventh the 1 last poles were 
in place and the first trestle was completed. 

Before nightfall, with the screeching of whistles and the chug- 
ging of locomotives, Jack Carrillo moved his rock cars into the 
attack. From quarries throughout the Southwest they rumbled 
over S.P. rails with only a few minutes' headway between them. 
Until the break should be closed, Harriman had placed his com- 
pany's entire freight system at Cory's disposal. Both the Santa Fe 
and the new Salt Lake Railroad curtailed regular shipments to 
send rock cargoes from quarries along their routes. So much rock- 
dumping equipment was borrowed from the new Los Angeles 
harbor, then being built at San Pedro, that construction there 

was practically halted for several weeks. Along transcontinental 
routes crossing the Southwest, freight and passenger traffic was 
shunted into sidings to make way for the strange and hurried 
procession of rock cars. Never in railroad history has so great a 
cargo been delivered at one point in so short a time. 

Below the border on Cory's battlefield an army of workers was 
flinging this ammunition into the river as fast as it arrived. While 
rock dumping began on the first trestle, the second was com- 
pleted alongside it. Henceforth whole trainloads of battleships 
rattled over both trestles continuously, night and day. At the 
signal of whistles their cargoes of boulders crashed into the swirl- 
ing waters, sending fountains of spray over the cars down the 
length of the trestle. Against the battle's roar rose a cannonading 
of dynamite shots which broke the rocks too big to handle. From 
nearby banks or from the engine's cab Cory and Clarke shouted 
their orders above the din. 

Within three days the rock barrier showed itself above the sur- 
face, forcing the water to cascade over the top and down the 
rock embankment on the other side. As the bombardment con- 
tinued the level rose perceptibly. A small part of the current 
found its way back down the old Colorado channel. Gravel and 
clay from nearby quarries were then poured on the rocks to plug 
the cracks. According to Cory's calculations, the river would be 
completely turned when it had been lifted eleven feet. 

But the monster bared its teeth once more before it would 
submit. By February 2, 1907, the irrepressible Gila was rising in 
still another flood. On the crest of its first waves rode the usual 
cargo of heavy driftwood. It charged into the crevasse and piled 
against Cory's first trestle, taking out three rows of piles. The 
rock barrier then gave way and battered against the second 
trestle. Its pilings held firm, but the entire structure soon bent 
out of shape with the river's full force pouring through the gap. 

Cory rushed his pile drivers into position and began pounding 
logs into the first trestle. All night long they fought the river, one 
gang breaking up the driftwood with poles while another drove 
in the pilings. Then they dumped rock as fast as puffing loco- 
motives could deliver it. By morning the rock barrier was re- 
stored. The Gila dropped its flood level and the danger faded. 
But in the railroad tracks along the second trestle an unmistak- 


able kink still revealed the spot where the Colorado had made its 
last stand. 

For the next eight days and nights the rock pouring was almost 
ceaseless. Having nearly lost his dam in the teeth of the runaway 
river, Cory was hurrying to bridle it before it could snort and 
rear again. By February 10, with the Colorado's level raised over 
ten feet and most of the flow already diverted to the original 
stream, the assault reached a furious crescendo. That night at 
eleven o'clock the wearied men stopped the last remnants of the 
river. The Imperial Canal was dry, and the entire flow was cours- 
ing down its ancient channel to the Pacific Ocean. For the second 
time Harry Cory and the Southern Pacific had beaten the Colo- 

There was still no time for celebrating. The grim engine'er, 
intent on nailing down the river for good, kept his shifts coming 
on the job and pouring rock. By late afternoon of the next day 
Cory was certain enough to announce that the break had been 
closed. Randolph and a party of engineers rode the steamer 
Searchlight for several miles up and down the river, returning 
to report that it was veering to the south and away from the 
break all along the line. 

Newspapers throughout the Southwest headlined the story to 
a relieved public. Across the nation the leading publications of 
the day, from engineering journals to popular magazines, hailed 
Cory's feat and the saving of 1,000,000 acres of American soil. 
In rescued Imperial Valley the people rejoiced openly and prayed 
in thanks. On the same day of the final closure the new concrete 
head gate north of the border was reopened to allow a continu- 
ous, controlled flow of Imperial's lifeblood into its veins. The 
empire conceived by Rockwood and enlivened by George Chaff ey 
had been saved from self-destruction by Harry T. Cory. 

But the engineer knew this single victory had not harnessed 
the river. As long as the same sand levees remained through 
which the creature had already burst from under him once, it 
could not be trusted for a moment. For the next few months he 
kept his trains and mule teams busy along the river building 
twenty miles of staunch rock levees extensions of the dams with 
which he had stopped the flood. 

Even this obstacle, he knew, was a precarious expedient. The 


mighty Colorado was bent on revisiting the Salton Sink and fill- 
ing it to its brim a process it had repeated at intervals through 
past ages. Undoubtedly the greatest geological change in the 
world's recorded history had been frustrated here by the hand 
of man. The Colorado would not submit to this indignity without 
a sullen intention to rebel. 

10: Dividing the Waters 

Following the closing of the break, Imperial Valley found itself 
living in uneasy peace during the Colorado's spring rise of 1907. 
That year the river flung a record flood against the new Southern 
Pacific levees. Patrols watched the swollen current day and night 
as it rose toward the top of the embankments. But in early sum- 
mer it receded, having given the new defenses a thorough test 
and the Imperial settlers another fright. 

By this time, with the flood battle ended, Congress was finally 
moving toward action on the river. Beginning early in 1907, 
measures were repeatedly introduced to provide funds for gov- 
ernment levees in Mexico, and for reimbursing the Southern 
Pacific for part of the $3,000,000 which Harriman had thrown 
into the Colorado. But though the repayment was urged by most 
of the California congressmen and Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, 
it suffered a lingering death in Washington. After four years the 
bill came out of a House committee with approval, but a minority 
report helped to kill it with the charge that it was "an attempted 
raid on the Federal Treasury." 

Harriman took this repudiation with philosophical calm. 
Shortly before his death in 1909 he made an inspection trip to 
the Colorado levees; while stopping in Imperial Valley, he was 
interviewed by a newspaperman, who reminded him of his unap- 
preciated efforts in turning the river. 

"Do you not, under the circumstances, regret having made this 
large expenditure?" 

"No," returned Harriman. "This valley was worth saving, 
wasn't it?" 

"Yes," the reporter agreed. 


"Then we have the satisfaction of knowing we saved it, haven't 

By 1910 the river was rampaging once more. Leaving its old 
bed, the Colorado turned into another ancient channel on the 
delta Bee River. It was soon emptying into Volcano Lake, which 
began to fill and threaten an overflow northward toward the val- 
ley. This time the Southern Pacific would take no hand in the 
fight. New levees were hastily thrown up by Imperial farmers, 
and pleas for help were rushed to President Taft. Congress 
quickly appropriated $1,000,000 for flood control its first sign 
of concern over the destructive powers of the lower Colorado. 

Using the old S.P. technique of a trestle and rock dam, the 
government engineers turned the Colorado once more and built 
the twenty-five-mile Ockerson levee to keep it in place. But with 
its very next flood the diabolical river knifed through the govern- 
ment levee, poured back into Bee River, and wiped out $1,000,000 
in federal funds. At least the river had no partiality concerning 
whose money it wasted. 

By now Imperial had little chance of turning the river back 
into its old channel. The most that could be hoped was that it 
could be prevented from getting any closer to the valley. Accord- 
ingly the settlers built new levees against any overflow from Vol- 
cano Lake, forcing its excess waters southward to the gulf. 

After that the Imperial farmers, who for years had allowed 
the fate of the valley to rest in outside hands, moved to take con- 
trol themselves. In 1911 they organized the Imperial Irrigation 
District, largest single agricultural unit in the world. Ownership 
of their water canal and protective levees in Mexico still resided 
in the pioneer California Development Company, which by this 
time had been forced into bankruptcy by repeated floods and 
other misfortunes. The Southern Pacific Railroad, having con- 
trolled the C. D. Company since the great flood, bought it at 
receiver's auction in February 1916, and promptly sold the prop- 
erty to the Imperial Irrigation District for $3,000,000. Along with 
the canal, levees, and equipment came company manager Charles 
Rockwood, "grand old man" of Imperial, who took over the 
duties of chief engineer for the district. 

Valley settlers had gained control of their own water supply 
none too soon. The Colorado was now alternating between 


drought and flood, requiring desperate measures to control it. 
In 1915 the river was so low that for over a month Imperial 
irrigators diverted its entire flow through their head gate by the 
use of a temporary dam across the channel. But that winter a 
flash flood of the Gila sent 200,000 second-feet of water roaring 
past Yuma a record volume for the Arizona tributary. When it 
began piling up against the brush and rock dam at the Imperial 
heading, water was backed several miles up the river. 

Imperial's citizens scarcely felt the flood, but their Arizona 
neighbors at Yuma were soon fighting for their homes. North 
of town the river broke through the levee on January 22, 1916. 
Immediately the alarm was sounded, and Yuma farmers came 
rushing with their teams to move their household belongings out 
of town. 

They were too late. Brown Colorado water swirled down Main 
Street, pouring into the buildings. In the lower section one adobe 
building after another melted like sugar and dropped into the 
torrent. Frantic citizens were soon paddling through the streets 
in rowboats, with the flood standing four feet deep in the main 
hotel. "The water in the bank," recalled one apprehensive resi- 
dent, "was four inches below my safe-deposit box." 

Farther down the Yuma Valley the river made a second break 
and destroyed many acres of alfalfa. Even after the settlers 
plugged the holes in the levees the water remained in their valley 
to plague them for several months. So much sediment had been 
deposited over the land that for years much of it was unfit for 

The Yuma people then turned on the dam at Imperial heading 
as cause of their disaster. When the Imperial Irrigation District 
started to rebuild it late that summer, an irate Yuma delegation 
went down and ordered Rockwood's engineers to stop. If another 
rock was dumped on the dam, warned the Yuma men, they 
would "go in there and blow it and you to Halifax." 

But the Imperial group was not convinced until the Yuma 
Water Users Association brought an injunction against them in 
August 1916. Then the I.I.D. obliged by dynamiting enough of 
the dam to relieve the flood menace, and the two agricultural 
sections lived in neighborly peace thereafter. The injunction 
stood from year to year, permitting Imperial to rebuild the dam 


only on the promise that it would be destroyed before the Gila's 
winter flood season. Yuma's residents, prizing water as much as 
any Southwesterners, were equally aware that there was such a 
thing as having too much. 

Still the flood menace was as close as ever for Imperial farmers. 
Below the border the Colorado, riding nervously on top of its 
delta cone, grew more threatening every year. Its bed in Bee 
River channel was building up with silt at the rate of a foot a 
year, causing the I.I.D. to keep raising the levees by the same 
amount. One corps of Imperial engineers was surveying for new 
levee construction along the Colorado when the freakish current 
suddenly broke out of its banks and spread for miles over the 
delta country. Every man took to the mesquite trees, perching 
in the thorny branches for three days until one of them swam 
to higher ground for help. 

Against this treacherous creature the Imperial Irrigation Dis- 
trict built up a formidable standing army of river crews, equipped 
with work trains and sixty miles of levee tracks. In flood seasons 
a quantity of rock was kept ready at the quarries in California, 
to be loaded and sent rolling at a warning phone call from the 
patrols on the levees. 

The continuing struggle against the Colorado was made doubly 
tedious by the location of the canal and levees below the border 
in Mexico. Every set of plans for improvements was subject to 
interminable delays by officials in Mexico City. Local authorities 
in Lower California insisted on tying the district's hands with red 
tape, taking advantage of the fact that an American group was 
dependent on Mexico for water and flood control. Each carload 
of rock bound for the Colorado levees was stopped at the border 
for customs duty. During one period every member of the I.I.D. 
levee crew was stopped daily at the border on his way to work 
and asked at least fifty questions by the customs officers. 

At one of the crucial flood times a force of three hundred men 
was fighting the river along the levees below the border. After 
they had worked feverishly for long hours night and day without 
sleep or food, the I.I.D. made up a load of about a thousand 
lunches for them. "We rushed them to the customhouse in a 
truck," as one valley farmer bitterly recalled, "and they made us 
set every one of those lunches out and counted them individually 


and made us pay tariffs on them afterwards amounting to more 
than they cost." 

Part of the trouble rose out of the valley's original Mexican 
water concession of 1 904, which reserved up to half of any water 
passing through the canal for lands in Mexico. Over 830,000 
acres below the border including nearly all the irrigable delta 
lands had been owned since the turn of the century by a band 
of Los Angeles investors. Chief of these was Harry Chandler of 
the Times, although the syndicate included others of the same 
group which had subdivided San Fernando Valley. When it was 
discovered that cotton would grow successfully on these lands, 
they were leased out to Mexican and Chinese tenants, who irri- 
gated them with an assured water supply from the Imperial 
Canal. Cultivated land below the border jumped to 1 1 8,500 acres 
by 1918, as compared with 367,000 in Imperial Valley. The 
American farmers began to fear that there would be far too little 
water for all users in the next period of drought. 

Under these conditions Imperial Valley could not hold its 
destiny in its own hands. As long as its lifeblood depended upon 
the whim of a foreign authority, it had no security in its water 
supply or in its defense against floods. By 1917 the I.I.D. was 
talking of a new canal which would tap the Colorado at Laguna 
Dam above Yuma and skirt along the border on the California 
side till it reached the valley. It would have the formidable 
walking hills to cross, but Imperial engineers believed a canal 
could be maintained through them in spite of shifting sands. The 
valley was determined, in any case, to uproot itself from the 
grasp of Mexico. 

The idea of an "All-American Canal" north of the border was 
not new. Since 1912 a resolute Imperial farmer named Mark 
Rose had been trying to get a water supply for his lands on the 
great soo,ooo-acre East Mesa of Imperial Valley. Rose was a 
blocky, heavy-shouldered dirt farmer, roughshod and even crude, 
but a man with a quick wit, a quicker tongue, and a facility for 
getting what he wanted. While his property was situated too high 
for a gravity flow from the Mexican canal, Rose found that it 
could be watered by a ditch built from the Colorado through the 
sand hills. 

For several years he badgered congressional committees in 


Washington for an appropriation, emphasizing the enormous 
amount of government land on the East Mesa awaiting irriga- 
tion from the river. To remove the fear of the sand hills, he got 
a plank road built through them; its success proved that the 
sand moved in a direction which would not menace a canal. But 
at the same time the I.I.D. became alarmed at the thought that, 
even with an All-American Canal, Mark Rose's private company 
might stand between the valley and the river. 

Heading the district's legal affairs at that time was alert and 
vigorous Phil Swing, a rising young lawyer who had already 
served as Imperial County's district attorney. Born in San Ber- 
nardino, Swing had settled in Imperial in 1907 to begin his first 
practice in a young and booming frontier territory. With him he 
brought a dynamic energy and a flare for showmanship that soon 
made him a forceful leader in valley affairs. As chief counsel for 
the I.I.D. he had clashed more than once with Harry Chandler's 
Mexican interests. But determined as he was to free Imperial 
from Mexican control, he was equally certain that little relief 
could be had from a canal in California which was dominated 
by Mark Rose. 

"If an All-American Canal is to be built," Swing told the 
district directors, "Imperial Valley will have to build and main- 
tain it." 

By 1917 he realized that Rose was making dangerous head- 
way in Washington, and was soon hurrying East to block him. 
Swing left the capital armed with an agreement between the 
Reclamation Bureau and the Imperial Irrigation District to in- 
vestigate Imperial's need for an All-American Canal. With one 
stroke he had elbowed Mark Rose out of his own project. 

But Rose was a man of cast-iron feelings. He was interested 
in getting the canal through, regardless of who owned it. Unable 
to beat the leaders of the I.I.D., he joined them. 

"You've knocked me out of this," he told the district directors, 
"and you're going to build the canal. Now I'm going to get on 
the board and see that you do." 

At the next district election Mark Rose became a director of 
the I.I.D. by an overwhelming vote. From that time on he and 
Phil Swing worked together and made an irresistible team in their 
fight for the All-American Canal. 


Their first task was to convince the Reclamation Bureau, and 
this meant convincing its distinguished chief engineer, Arthur 
Powell Davis. Swing and Rose found, however, that there was 
little he did not already know about the Colorado. As a nephew 
of Major John W. Powell, the famed explorer of the river, Davis 
had been immersed in its lore from boyhood. He had first 
glimpsed its meandering channel at a point near Grand Canyon 
in 1882, while serving as a topographer with the Geological Sur- 
vey. From the middle nineties until his transfer to the new Recla- 
mation Bureau in 1902 he had measured the river's annual flow 
in its upper tributaries. With engineer J. B. Lippincott he ex- 
amined the lower Colorado and in the bureau's first annual 
report, recommended a dam at Boulder Canyon. 

Swing and Rose could not help regarding Arthur Davis as the 
tall and dignified veteran of Western reclamation, the man who 
most deserved the name of "father of Colorado development." 
In repeated interviews and conversations his advice was always 
the same: if the All- American Canal was to bring new lands 
under irrigation on the East Mesa and elsewhere, the project 
must have a storage reservoir. 

"It just isn't practical," he told Swing, "to reclaim that land 
with the threat of a drought every five years. We've got to have 
a dam." 

Swing and the I.I.D. were reluctant to complicate their prob- 
lem with the kind of dam Davis had in mind. Yet they knew 
that only a great controlling works in the Colorado channel 
would give them complete relief from recurring floods. In July 
1919 the matter was settled for them. A three-man engineering 
board had investigated Imperial's water problems, according to 
the agreement Swing had won between the Reclamation Bureau 
and the I.I.D., and had rendered a report. It not only recom- 
mended an All-American Canal but added that the government 
"should undertake the early construction of a storage reservoir 
on the drainage basin of the Colorado River. . . ." Now there 
was no doubt that A. P. Davis and Imperial Valley were on the 
same side. 

At this point the water-conscious states of the Rocky Mountain 
region took sudden notice. Storage reservoirs meant greater use 
of water, and greater use meant larger prior rights to the flow 


of the Colorado. If these states of the river's upper basin were 
not to find most of their water pre-empted by the time they were 
ready to use it, they must step wholeheartedly into this Colorado 

Water discussion between the states, in fact, had already begun 
by 1919. Preliminary talks among interested groups from several 
states had been held the year before at Tucson and San Diego. 
Already the whole state of California had taken up Imperial's 
cause as its own and had asked the other Colorado River states 
for a general meeting on the water problem. 

On January 1 8, 1919, a distinguished assemblage of governors, 
senators, and the foremost engineers in the Southwest gathered 
at Salt Lake City and thereupon began the long struggle over 
Colorado development. California, backed at that time by Ari- 
zona, pressed for hurried construction on the lower river to pre- 
vent floods at Yuma and Imperial Valley. But the upper states 
Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico opposed such de- 
velopment unless their future water rights were protected. 

They had ample reason for their fears. In two previous Western 
projects the Rocky Mountain states had found their irrigation 
restricted by downstream activity. In 1904 the Reclamation 
Bureau had filed on the North Platte River in Wyoming, and 
constructed the giant Pathfinder Dam. When completed, it was 
feared that there was insufficient water for its full use ; Wyoming 
irrigators on the upper North Platte were "embargoed" by fed- 
eral statute from making any additional water diversions. Wyo- 
ming found its own development hampered for the sake of a 
project which mainly benefited Nebraska. 

Similarly, the great Elephant Butte Dam in New Mexico was 
begun in 1907 to fulfill an American agreement with Mexico over 
the waters of the upper Rio Grande. To insure a full water sup- 
ply for this reservoir largest in the United States before the 
Boulder project the government clamped another embargo on 
any new upstream irrigation by withholding right-of-way permits 
across public lands. Water users on the upper Rio Grande in New 
Mexico and Colorado were outraged. A Colorado senator voiced 
the fury of the two states in a powerful speech in Congress, end- 
ing with the declaration that "while it is too late to save the 
waters of the Rio Grande, because the treaty has now been rati- 


fied, yet I say this is a warning that it may not happen again 
on the Colorado." 

Such was the sentiment the Californians faced at the Salt Lake 
conference. It ended with a resolution that Colorado develop- 
ment should start at the headwaters and proceed gradually down- 
stream a clear first victory for the upper-basin states. 

The Californians returned home, however, with one accom- 
plishment. The question of the Colorado had been projected to 
the national scene, and a new organization had been formed for 
the river's development among water users throughout the basin 
the League of the Southwest. During the next few years the 
gathering conflict over the Colorado centered in its stormy meet- 
ings. At Los Angeles, where the Californians held the advantage 
of numbers, they overrode the Salt Lake resolution and passed 
another calling for an investigation of the Boulder Canyon dam 
site "with a view to prompt construction." At this the northern 
states courteously invited the League to a third meeting at 
Denver the stronghold of upper-basin sentiment. Here in Janu- 
ary 1921 they put through a rule for unit voting by states, giving 
them a 4-3 majority over the three lower-basin states of Cali- 
fornia, Nevada, and Arizona. 

From then on the Denver conference was in the hands of the 
upper states, and in particular of Colorado and its chief repre- 
sentative, Delph Carpenter. One of the great water attorneys of 
the West, Carpenter combined the talents of eloquent persuasion 
and political cunning. He was a product of the cattle country 
north of Denver a former cowboy turned lawyer. So great were 
his tact and agility that he represented both sheep and cattle in- 
terests in a region where the two were incompatible. On one oc- 
casion he is said to have been riding with a group of cowpunchers 
who shot up a sheepherder's camp. Unnoticed by the sheepmen, 
Carpenter rode hurriedly back to his law office in the town of 
Greeley. He was seated behind his desk, out of breath but smiling, 
when the outraged sheepmen arrived and had him draw up a 
complaint against their assailants. 

By 1921, Carpenter was no longer a local lawyer of limited 
practice. Specializing in water law, he represented his state in 
the two great cases which patterned Western irrigation rights 
Kansas vs. Colorado in 1911, and Wyoming vs. Colorado, which 


was then still pending before the Supreme Court. He became 
known as the "silver fox of Colorado," and though he cham- 
pioned his own state in conflicts with her neighbors, the entire 
Rocky Mountain region looked to him for leadership in dealing 
with the lower Colorado basin. 

Carpenter's main contention at the Denver meeting was that, 
before the upper states would agree to Boulder Canyon or any 
other lower-basin project, they must be guaranteed against any 
interruption in their own development. Rejecting California's 
proposal that the entire Colorado program be left to the Reclama- 
tion Bureau, he insisted that the seven Colorado-basin states 
should first agree among themselves by an interstate compact. 

It was an idea which Carpenter had long fostered as the only 
way to solve the legal conflicts which kept Western water usage 
in constant litigation. Within most Western states, water rights 
rested on the simple rule of prior usage "first in time, first in 
right." But priorities between users in two separate states were 
still in doubt and would remain so until the pending Wyoming vs. 
Colorado case was decided. If this was settled so as to eliminate 
state boundaries in water rights, the upper states feared they 
could never compete with the populous and growing California 
in a race to appropriate the river's water. Carpenter's own state 
of Colorado, which supplied sixty-five per cent of the river's flow, 
did not intend to allow it to pass by unused for the sole benefit 
of irrigators in the arid Southwest. 

A Colorado compact, however, would end any possibility of 
priorities across state lines and would enable the upper states to 
preserve their water rights for future use. Carpenter and his 
upper-basin supporters were able to convince the delegates at 
the Denver convention. They adjourned with a resolution that 
the Colorado basin be rapidly developed and that its waters be 
divided by interstate compact. 

After that, events moved rapidly in the direction of a Colorado 
settlement. Early in 1921 the seven state legislatures passed en- 
abling acts for the framing of a compact. In August, Congress 
gave its consent. Members of the new Colorado Commission were 
soon being chosen to represent each state in laying out a basic 
law of the river. 


But if the upper states were making progress with their com- 
pact scheme, Imperial Valley was gaining ground for its canal 
and dam. With the help of A. P. Davis of the Reclamation 
Service, Mark Rose and Phil Swing were working to get congres- 
sional action. In May 1920 they were rewarded with the Kincaid 
Act authorizing a full-scale report on an irrigation and storage 
plan for the lower Colorado. Imperial was asked to share the 
expense, and it eagerly delivered a huge overpayment just to 
insure an adequate investigation. Davis took personal charge, 
and in little more than a year had turned out a preliminary 
version of what came to be known as the Fall-Davis Report, after 
the Reclamation chief and his superior, Albert B. Fall. At that 
time the lid was still tight on the scandal of Teapot Dome, and 
the name of President Harding's Interior Secretary lent distinc- 
tion to the report. But its own thorough coverage was enough to 
earn the title of the "Bible of the Colorado River." 

When initial copies were passed out in July 1921 the reaction 
was electric. Davis had recommended not only an All-American 
Canal and a reservoir "at or near Boulder Canyon," but also the 
development of hydroelectric power to repay costs of the dam. 
The Southern California Edison Company lost no time in adding 
to its other power filings on the Colorado River by posting no- 
tices at Boulder Canyon. The Southern Sierras Power Company 
sent its general manager to Imperial Valley, where he met with 
the Associated Chambers of Commerce at Calipatria late in July. 
Southern Sierras and the Edison Company, he announced, would 
build Boulder Dam free of charge if Imperial Valley would sup- 
port their power applications. 

But down from Los Angeles that night came the Big Three of 
the Water and Power Department Bill Mulholland, W. B. 
Mathews, and E. F. Scattergood, chief of the electrical division. 
Their unexpected appearance threw consternation into the pri- 
vate power camp. 

"It would be monstrous and heinous," Mathews exclaimed to 
the assemblage, "to place all remaining power potentialities of 
the Southwest in the hands of a great combination of private 

In the face of this broadside from the Los Angeles public 
power champions the Southern Sierras retired in temporary de- 


feat. It was only the first skirmish, however, in the power battle 
that was to dog the Boulder Canyon project to its completion. 

With this dramatic entrance the Los Angeles Water and Power 
Department threw itself into Imperial's cause. But while the val- 
ley had gained an ally, the association brought new enemies. 
When the League of the Southwest convened for its fourth meet- 
ing early in December at Riverside, California, the upper states 
delegates were more fearful than ever of California's ambitions. 
At Denver they had secured agreement for their Colorado com- 
pact to guarantee their rights in the river. This time they meant 
to make it unmistakably plain that the compact must be in full 
operation before they would tolerate any construction of dams 
and canals. Without an agreement on the river there was no 
telling how their own development might be affected by such 
wholesale water and power rights downstream. 

When the Riverside meeting opened on December 8, 1921, it 
was plain that the California members held a majority and meant 
to use it to pass a resolution demanding immediate dam con- 
struction on the Colorado. Delph Carpenter heatedly reminded 
them of the precedent set at Denver for unit voting by states. 
Still the Californians would not yield the advantage. Delegates 
from Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico then threat- 
ened to walk out and wreck the conference if they did not get the 
unit rule. Just before the end of the first day's session Arizona and 
Nevada joined them against California in refusing to participate 
in any League resolutions. The whole problem of the Colorado 
was now confined in this tumultuous conference at Riverside. 

Next day the case for the upper states was argued by one of 
their ablest delegates the powerful L. Ward Bannister of Den- 
ver. Known as one of the foremost water lawyers in the nation, 
Bannister was president of the Colorado River League, an organ- 
ization of upper-basin cities and corporations which had an inter- 
est in developing the river. Together with Delph Carpenter, 
against whom he often contended for leadership, Bannister made 
the Colorado state delegation a dynamic factor at any water 
meeting. He now proceeded to harangue the assembly on the 
rights of the upper basin. As for Colorado, he warned, she would 
fight "any and all development on the lower river" till her inter- 
ests were protected by interstate compact. 


In the middle of his tirade Secretary of the Interior Fall strode 
into the auditorium. Amid a welcoming applause from the Cali- 
fornia delegates he took his seat on the platform. Having heard 
part of Bannister's remarks, he now leaned forward in his chair 
and answered him. The states did not have absolute control over 
interstate rivers, Fall declared, intimating that the federal govern- 
ment could build Boulder Dam without sectional interference. 
California's members showered his words with a wild ovation. 
They now had the whole Interior Department on their side. 

On the last day the other six states framed a compromise, but 
California did not intend to lose an inch of ground already 
gained. Before the compromise could be presented a Los Angeles 
man moved to adjourn. The conference broke up in loud and 
desperate quarreling, during which a Californian shouted the un- 
deserved charge to Delph Carpenter: "I have a graveyard full of 
better men than you!" 

The League of the Southwest, formed to further the devel- 
opment of the Colorado, left Riverside with its organization 
broken. A fifth meeting was later held at Santa Barbara, but as 
an effective voice for the Colorado basin the League had already 
fallen victim to the row between the states. 

Besides, the impatient Boulder advocates could not be held 
down to interstate meetings after the promise of federal dam 
construction. Two days after the Riverside conference they gath- 
ered at San Diego's U. S. Grant Hotel, where Secretary Fall held 
a hearing on the final version of A. P. Davis 5 Colorado dam 
report. There they cheered Awhile Fall repeated his assurance on 
construction of Boulder Dam. Enthusiasm rose even higher in 
further fiery words from Mark Rose, Phil Swing, Billy Mathews, 
and other leaders. 

But as the evening session began two men from Colorado 
dropped a sour note in this happy chorus. One of them was L. 
Ward Bannister, the same who had clashed with Fall at River- 
side. He declared that Colorado would support federal construc- 
tion in the lower basin only after the water rights were settled 
by compact. Otherwise, he pointedly warned, "we must meet the 
men of California upon the floor of Congress and through our 
senators and representatives oppose absolutely their plans for the 
development of the lower part of the river. . . ." 


Bannister had made no empty threat. In both houses of Con- 
gress the irrigation committees were dominated by Rocky Moun- 
tain men. Galifornians knew that without the support of the 
upper states they could never get a Boulder project passed into 
law. In spite of California's triumph in winning government sup- 
port, Bannister and his upper-basin friends still held the aces in 
the Colorado poker game. It was a matter of no compact, no 
Boulder Dam. 

Californians, in fact, were already resigned to the bargain. 
Phil Swing was busy in Washington laying a background for the 
forthcoming negotiations which would further the cause of 
Boulder Dam. Of necessity the government would have a repre- 
sentative sitting on the compact commission, and Swing was de- 
termined to get the most formidable ally possible. "Herbert 
Hoover," he told A. P. Davis, "would be the man if we can get 

The Reclamation chief promptly abandoned his own ambi- 
tions for the post and seized Swing's idea. More than anything 
else he wanted Boulder Dam, and no one would be a more pow- 
erful advocate than Hoover former European relief administra- 
tor, now Secretary of Commerce, and potentially the most likely 
successor to President Harding. At Swing's suggestion Davis went 
to Hoover with the proposition, drew up impressive plans for him 
to examine, and convinced him of the magnitude of the scheme. 

In mid-December Harding appointed Hoover federal repre- 
sentative on the new Colorado River Commission. When dele- 
gates of the seven states arrived in Washington for the first 
meeting on January 26, 1922, they immediately named Hoover 
chairman. As the tug of war over the Colorado opened, Cali- 
fornia had won the first advantage. 

It was to be her only one. The four upper-basin states Utah, 
Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico arrived with a definite 
plan of attack. Their leader was Delph Carpenter, who had first 
suggested the compact solution. Carpenter knew water law, and 
he knew every trick of negotiation and compromise. Together 
with his three upper-state allies, the "silver fox of Colorado" 
meant to write a compact that would protect every present and 
future right of Rocky Mountain water users. 

Against this formidable array sat California's representative, 


Wilbur F. McClure, the state engineer who had investigated the 
seizure of the Los Angeles Aqueduct gates in Owens Valley. He 
was, as an associate describes him, a "kindly old gentleman," but 
utterly lacking in an understanding of Southern California's 
water needs and an ability to drive a bargain. It apparently did 
not occur to him that in the succeeding meetings California 
would be fighting for a share of Colorado water on which to base 
its entire foreseeable development. McClure should have been 
the forceful leader of the commission ; but even the Nevada dele- 
gate, representing only a small interest in the Colorado, made a 
stronger showing. 

In this situation the Arizona representative appeared as the 
tiger of the commission. Like Carpenter, Winfield S. Norviel of 
Phoenix was an irrigation lawyer one of the most experienced 
in Arizona. He was a man of powerful build and unrelenting 
will; while he fell short of Carpenter in brilliant oratory, he gave 
way to none in slow and dogged cross-table argument. As state 
water commissioner he was acutely aware that Arizona's future 
was now staked on his bargaining ability. 

At the first meeting Norviel presented a full draft of a com- 
pact, imposing on each state a limit for the number of acres to 
be put under irrigation in the next twenty years. Carpenter and 
the upper delegates were aghast at the suggestion. They had 
come to Washington to secure unlimited protection in return for 
their support for Boulder Dam, not to submit to restriction. 

For the next few days the commissioners wrangled over Ari- 
zona's limitation idea. Each state was invited to estimate its total 
water needs, but when their figures were submitted the total ran 
far beyond the Colorado's volume. Every estimate except Cali- 
fornia's was far beyond the official Reclamation figures in the 
Davis Report. When Hoover asked for a modification of claims 
each state in turn refused to yield or made only a token reduc- 
tion. He began to realize with rising impatience that there could 
never be a division of water between the seven states. Had they 
been dividing any other resource, compromise might have fol- 
lowed. But in the arid West water was the foundation of each 
state's hopes. They would never compromise on it. 

The commissioners knew they were at the crossroads as the 
seventh session opened on the afternoon of January 30. More 

than one was convinced it would be the last. "I do not believe we 
are going to progress to a real basis at this meeting, 5 ' declared the 
Utah delegate. 

Hoover was desperate. He had joined this cause to bring about 
an agreement that would lead to Boulder Dam. In one last effort 
he asked the commissioners whether they would not consent to 
some plan that would merely control the river and save Imperial 
Valley from devastating floods. 

"It would seem a great misfortune," he observed, "if we dis- 
solve this commission without at least agreeing upon so primary a 
necessity as a control reservoir." 

"We are not here to jump in a band wagon with California," 
fumed the Wyoming delegate. "We in turn want the lower river 
to agree with us that our rights in Wyoming are entirely pro- 

At last Hoover turned in despair to the final question. So far, 
he observed, they had not been able to agree on a single idea. 
"The question arises, is it worth while to have another session? 
Or shall we make the declaration now that we are so hopelessly 
far apart that there is no use in proceeding?" 

After a pause the Utah representative suggested that they 
should adjourn and "try again" later in the year. With ruffled 
feelings smoothed, the commissioners agreed on this one issue. 
They disbanded to gather data and meet again somewhere in the 
Southwest. Perhaps time and a fresh approach could bring agree- 
ment to the fractious Colorado basin. 

When the commission gathered for the first hearing in Phoenix 
on March 15, it seemed that the whole basin had suddenly come 
alive to its water interests. Phoenix hotels were jammed with 
delegations from every basin state. Water men from at least two 
dozen Southern California organizations caucused ahead of time 
to present a solid front before the commissioners. A packed gal- 
lery of local citizens supported every new demand for Arizona's 
rights with thundering applause. 

By the time the commissioners met at Salt Lake City, where 
Utah water advocates demanded unlimited rights, Hoover was 
despairing of any progress. The commission could never reach an 
agreement, he declared, "so long as each state insists on un- 
restricted use of the Colorado within its own borders and re- 


stricted use in all the other states." Finally at Denver the Colorado 
people carried on the campaign for unlimited rights. 

"I fail to see," shouted one, "why Colorado should join a com- 
pact which surrenders one drop of water." 

This period of fact finding, Hoover could see, had done noth- 
ing more than stir up state jealousies. During the summer he 
confided his despair to Carl Hayden, veteran congressman from 
Arizona, stating that he could get absolutely no harmony between 
the states. Hayden was an old campaigner whose ten years in 
Congress had taught him the subtle short cuts to agreement. 

"What you say is due to your political inexperience," he re- 
plied, and pointed out that a fall election was approaching. 
Whatever a state official might agree, "his opponent is going to 
say that he has traded away the heritage of his people." Wait 
until after the fall election, advised Hayden, and then the com- 
missioners "will write a compact." 

The Arizonan's strategy was undeniable. Hoover set the final 
meetings at Santa Fe, New Mexico, to start November 9, two days 
after the election. Meanwhile other events occurring through the 
summer of 1922 played into Hoover's favor. On June 5 the 
Supreme Court handed down its final decision in the long- 
awaited Wyoming vs. Colorado case : the rule of prior appropria- 
tions in water rights "first in time, first in right" applied 
regardless of state lines. It was a costly setback for the upper 
states. Their worst fears of being caught in a race for develop- 
ment with California were now confirmed. More than ever they 
needed a compact for protection against such huge lower-basin 
projects as Boulder Dam. 

As if to add to the threat, the Boulder Dam bill came up for 
serious consideration in Congress in the same month. Phil Swing 
himself had taken his seat in the lower house the year before 
elected to represent Imperial's district on a single campaign 
promise: he would go to Washington and put through Boulder 

The freshman congressman later said that if he had known at 
the start the long and bitter fight that awaited him he would 
have hesitated to begin. But Swing was young and confident, 
with the world before him. Soon after he reached Washington he 
descended on the office of California's stern and dynamic Hiram 

Johnson, who was then nearing the end of his first term in the 
Senate. Wise in the ways of congressional politics, Johnson waited 
accommodatingly while Swing eagerly described his Boulder 
Dam bill. Then with paternal warmth Johnson put his hand over 
the younger man's shoulder and walked with him to the door. 

"You go right ahead," he soothed. "You get it through the 
House, then send it over here, and I'll get it through the Senate." 

If Swing caught the warning in this gentle sarcasm he did not 
heed it. For two years he buttonholed legislators on both sides of 
the Capitol, pouring out his plan for taming the Colorado. While 
he made little headway with the rest of Congress, he succeeded 
at least in firing California's own delegation. Even Hiram John- 
son, with one ear cocked to the rising sentiment for the project 
in California, joined Swing in sponsoring his bill and became the 
rousing champion of Boulder Dam on the Senate side. 

Their arguments were roundly supported by news of the Colo- 
rado's latest antics. Already it had broken out of its levees again, 
forcing Imperial's river fighters to fall back to a new line of defense. 
With Volcano Lake overflowing northward once more, they made 
a counterattack against the river and by means of a new cut 
turned it into another delta basin called the Pescadero Depres- 
sion. But they knew it would be only a matter of years before it 
filled and placed them once again at the river's mercy. 

Then in 1921 the Colorado flung itself against the levees at 
Yuma, and the entire farm community turned out to fight the 
rising flood. One hero is said to have discovered a leak several 
feet wide in an emergency dike, and in true Dutch-boy fashion 
flung himself into the hole and plugged it until his cries brought 
a rescue crew. Up and down the levees the farmers were able to 
hold the river that year, though they had nearly run out of the 
materials for levee building when the water stopped rising 
scarcely an inch from the top. 

In 1922 the Colorado turned its fury on California's Palo 
Verde Valley, sixty miles above Yuma. Breaking through the 
levees below Blythe, it rolled into the thriving little valley with- 
out warning on May 22. Farm families took flight with no time 
to salvage their belongings before the water rushed over their 
lands. Then it swept into the rising young town of Ripley and 
stood four feet deep in the lobby of its new $100,000 hotel. 


While these dreadful tidings were still reaching Washington, 
hearings began on Swing's bill in the House Irrigation Commit- 
tee. But it was also a time when the Wyoming vs. Colorado deci- 
sion was fresh in the minds of the Rocky Mountain congressmen 
who dominated the group. They were not willing, as an Arizonan 
later put it, "to let the sheep of flood protection cover up the 
wolf of power and water greed." The first Swing- Johnson bill 
died without reaching the floor of either house, but it had made 
the upper basin more intent than ever on a Colorado compact. 

On November 9 the commissioners gathered at the designated 
meeting place of Bishop's Lodge, a resort situated three bumpy 
miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico. With them was a virtual 
horde of water men from the seven interested states. The Cali- 
fornia contingent, consisting of Billy Mathews, Mark Rose, and 
seven others, had wired ahead for reservations and arrived on the 
day before the first meeting. They found Bishop's Lodge loaded 
to the walls, but cheerfully bunked together four and more in 
a room. 

Hoover looked upon this invasion with dismay. He had no in- 
tention of allowing the conference to become a seven-ring circus. 
Four days later he notified the proprietor of Bishop's Lodge that 
quarters were congested, and provided him with a new rooming 
arrangement. When this was posted on the morning of the thir- 
teenth the California group was outraged. Seven of them had 
been left out altogether, with only Mathews and one other 
colleague allowed to remain. They appealed to Commissioner 
McClure, but he only advised them to find rooms in Santa Fe. 
Three of them did so, taking a taxi every morning over the rutted 
canyon road to Bishop's Lodge. The other four took the next 
train for Los Angeles. 

McClure was now left with only a fraction of the support he 
needed to drive a bargain with Delph Carpenter and the men of 
the upper basin. Only the state attorney general, another north- 
ern Californian, was allowed to attend the meetings with him, 
while most of the other commissioners insisted on being accom- 
panied by the best-informed engineers and lawyers available. 

When the real negotiations opened on November n, Delph 
Carpenter presented a revolutionary departure from previous 
compacts one which divided the river while avoiding the impos- 

sible task of allotting water to each of the seven states. A fifty- 
fifty division would be made between the upper and lower basins, 
leaving to each one the later job of allotment according to states. 
It would divide the flow at Lee Ferry, an arbitrary point between 
the two basins near the Arizona-Utah border, and give the lower 
basin 6,264,000 acre-feet. Together with the Gila and other 
southern tributaries, this was supposed to equal one half the 

The principle of division by basin was Delph Carpenter's 
crowning stroke the compromise that undoubtedly saved the 
Compact. The upper states, having already been consulted, swung 
behind it immediately. McClure did not object, and soon ac- 
cepted not only the basin principle but also the fifty-fifty settle- 
ment "as a fair basis for discussion." 

But Norviel of Arizona was suspicious: "It isn't, as I conceive 
it, what we were appointed for. ... It leaves the two divisions 
of the basin to work out their own salvation, which does not 
mean anything." After two days of wrangling he finally relented 
enough to accept the principle of division by basin. He insisted, 
however, that the water be apportioned according to the needs 
of each basin, rather than by "the gambler's chance of fifty-fifty." 

With the upper basin still standing firm, Hoover made a new 
approach on the afternoon of November 14. Taking the 16,400,000 
acre-feet average flow estimated in the Davis Report, he sliced 
it in half and suggested 8,200,000 for each basin. Norviel 
abruptly retired to consult his Arizona colleagues, and came back 
agreeing to discuss the figure. But Carpenter objected that the 
upper states could never deliver such a quantity in dry years: 
"Nature will force us into a violation. . . ." 

The commission was still deadlocked. At last Hoover suggested 
that the two sides retire and frame separate propositions. That 
night they caucused separately behind closed doors. Next morn- 
ing the upper states returned with a proposal to guarantee to 
deliver 6,500,000 acre-feet. McClure then and there agreed, "I 
am willing to consider the figure named." 

Norviel was immovable. Obviously, he said, it was a division 
of 6,500,000 to the lower basin and 10,000,000 to the upper. "I 
like to be moderate in my statement, but I think that is certainly 


an unfair proposition, and feeling that way about it at this time, 
I certainly must reject it." 

The atmosphere in the room was almost explosive. Carpenter 
and the upper-basin men hotly reminded Norviel that the guar- 
anteeing states needed ample protection against drought. Norviel 
retorted that he had not asked for a guaranty of delivery and 
thereby put his ringer on the veiled crux of the issue. Both sides 
were fighting for water rights, against which they could be free 
to plan and finance new reclamation projects. Neither side, how- 
ever, said so. The upper states insisted that a guarantee of deliv- 
ery was the only practicable method, and then asked for special 
consideration because of the responsibility they assumed. Norviel 
wanted to talk first about dividing the water in the river before 
discussing guarantees. He answered the upper-basin proposal by 
offering to accept Hoover's 8,200,000 acre-feet to each basin. 

Hot words flew back and forth while the gap remained at 
1,700,000 acre-feet. With tempers almost at the breaking point, 
the Nevada delegate finally exclaimed that if the upper states 
would guarantee only 6,500,000, "we might as well abandon the 

"I think we could say the same thing of the lower states," 
snapped the New Mexico commissioner. 

Once again Hoover moved in and suggested a compromise : "I 
am wondering if the northern states will make it 7,500,000." At 
this the upper delegates demanded a recess, and for a whole day 
the two sides conferred among themselves and bargained with 
their opponents. When they convened on the morning of the six- 
teenth agreement had been reached. Hoover's 7,5OO,ooo-acre-foot 
compromise passed without argument. One by one other sections 
of the Compact were introduced and unanimously accepted. So 
far as most of the commissioners were concerned, the main battle 
was safely past. 

But for California something had been left out. The upper 
states had secured their water rights enough to give them un- 
limited use on their own tributaries but they had not in turn 
agreed to Boulder Dam. Carpenter had admitted that the lower 
basin was in desperate need of flood control, yet he would accept 
no such provision in the Compact. 


After the tentative agreement had been drafted, the Nevada 
delegate turned over a copy to W. B. Mathews, Mark Rose, and 
the few California water men remaining at Bishop's Lodge. They 
read it and were appalled. In the whole document there was not 
a sentence or even a footnote on Boulder Dam nor on any water 
storage at all. For the first time California's water interests real- 
ized the utter impotence of their state's representation. California 
had simply come to Santa Fe to quitclaim half the river to the 
upper basin. 

When the meetings were reopened on November 19, Mark 
Rose led the group before the commissioners and insisted that 
water storage would have to be included in the Compact, as all 
the low flow of the river was now being used. Subsequently 
Hoover suggested a provision for a reservoir of 5,000,000 acre- 
feet enough to satisfy existing water needs. Such a capacity, 
however, was a mere pond compared to the vast reservoir the 
Californians had in mind. They told Hoover that no storage 
clause at all would be better than this. The Secretary believed it 
was worth while, however, and was able to get agreement from 
the seven commissioners. 

But the California men were not through. They wrote a letter 
to McClure, stating that they could never stomach the Compact 
he had permitted the commission to frame. The reaction was 
immediate. They were invited to a conference at Secretary 
Hoover's suite in Bishop's Lodge. At the appointed time Mathews, 
Rose, and three others filed in and took their seats at one end of 
the parlor. Facing them was Hoover himself, flanked by the 
California commissioner. After an embarrassing pause the Secre- 
tary began. 

"Mr. McClure has shown me your letter of protest. It is per- 
fectly outrageous to write such a letter to Mr. McClure. . . . 
Your criticism of the proposed Compact is unjustified. Unless you 
withdraw it in writing, I will be forced to end the conference, and 
the blame for the failure of Colorado development will be on 

For a moment the California men sat perfectly still. Hoover's 
declaration had left them dumfounded. Mark Rose was the first 
to move. He stepped solemnly forward, took his hat, and started 
across the room toward the door. Behind him filed the rest of 


the California men while Hoover watched them in silence. As 
Rose passed the Secretary he paused, leaned over, and growled 
two words: 

"Aw hell." 

The California contingent left Hoover's room, Bishop's Lodge, 
and Santa Fe. The next train for California carried all but one 
or two. The last chance for the water interests of Southern Cali- 
fornia to influence the negotiations had passed. There was now 
no hope that the great project they had envisioned could be tied 
to the Colorado Compact. Instead the upper states had secured 
their water rights and California had no security for its half of 
the bargain Boulder Dam. 

Still the lower basin as a whole had not staged its last fight at 
Santa Fe. What happened next remains in dispute, as the final 
minutes of the commission meetings have since been lost. But 
according to the Arizona version, W. S. Norviel made one last 
demand. As long as he had compromised on the division of water, 
Arizona would have to withhold its Gila River out of the bargain. 

The fireworks that followed can be reconstructed only from 
bits of testimony by some of the participants. Norviel's opponents 
instantly objected. The Gila was as much a part of the river as 
any tributary. If one state withheld its own contribution to the 
main stream, then the rest would demand the same right. 

Norviel then insisted still according to Arizona's version 
that if the Gila must be included in the Colorado basin as de- 
fined by the Compact, then Arizona would have to be given 
special compensation 1,000,000 acre-feet. To this the upper 
states raised objections more furiously than ever, but Norviel 
made it plain that otherwise he would not sign the Compact. 
Like the stubborn twelfth man on a jury, he finally made the 
others relent. In Article III of the Compact, which allotted the 
water, was inserted a paragraph (b) : "In addition to the appor- 
tionment in paragraph (a), the Lower Basin is hereby given the 
right to increase its beneficial consumptive use of such waters by 
one million acre-feet per annum." 

Delph Carpenter, the shrewd Colorado lawyer who had been 
expected to dominate the commission, had met his match in 
Norviel of Arizona. There was now little left to recognize in the 
ready-made Compact he had brought to Santa Fe. The doughty 

Arizonan had seen to that. His stand had earned him Hoover's 
admiration as "the best fighter on the commission." 

"Arizona should erect a monument to you," he later wrote to 
Norviel, "and entitle it 'One Million acre feet.' " 

This is the water which has been the nub of the Arizona-Cali- 
fornia controversy for years. Arizona claimed that the 1,000,000 
acre-feet of "III b water" belonged to her alone, and that the 
only reason the Compact does not say so is that the commission- 
ers wanted to keep it uniform in its division by basins and not by 
states. At least two men from other states who participated in the 
negotiations support this claim. There was a gentleman's agree- 
ment at the time, according to Arizona, that this water was to be 

In 1934, Arizona told this to the Supreme Court. California 
objected, and the case was thrown out on the ground that the 
Compact was perfectly clear: III b water was for the lower basin, 
not for Arizona alone. 

California's version does not attempt to describe the negotia- 
tions leading up to the puzzling paragraph III b, except to say 
that its purpose was to allow the lower basin an additional use 
after it had reached the limit of its 7,500,000 acre-feet. Her water 
men have, however, been searching during the past dozen years 
for the missing minutes which may solve the riddle. Meanwhile 
California does say that there was no such gentleman's agree- 
ment; that in the negotiations and congressional debate following 
the Compact agreement no such claim was made; that Arizona's 
elaborate explanation of III b was concocted at a time when she 
wanted to accept the Compact; and that both before and after 
the 1934 case Arizona actually objected to the document on the 
very ground that it did not define her right to the Gila. 

While it might be true that the 1,000,000 acre-feet represented 
Norviel's triumph, California could feel fortunate that water was 
not allotted in the Compact according to the zeal of each com- 
missioner. As one of her present-day water men remarked, "Nor- 
viel was the best commissioner California had." 

On November 24, 1922, the seven delegates reached final 
agreement on a full draft of the Compact, and then drove into 
Santa Fe for the formal signing. At the historic Governor's Palace 
they assembled in the Ben Hur room, where Governor Lew 


Wallace had penned his classic novel. Writing on the same lap- 
board used by Wallace, the commissioners placed their signatures 
on the document and made an irrevocable division of the Colo- 
rado. Herbert Hoover went back to Washington after a personal 
triumph in bringing harmony out of what had seemed a hopeless 
impasse. And Norviel went back to Arizona in a state of nervous 

The first part of the huge bargain had been made. Colorado 
and the upper states had gained their security against large-scale 
water appropriations in the south. It now remained for the state 
legislatures to ratify the instrument, and for California to achieve 
its part of the trade congressional approval of Boulder Dam. 
The long battle for the waters of the Colorado, begun with the 
founding of Imperial Valley, was only half finished. 

1 1 : Tempest in Washington 

Early in 1923 the state legislatures took up the Compact and 
ratified it one by one. In California, Mark Rose and some of the 
water people opposed it, but not strongly enough. Herbert Hoover 
made speeches in Los Angeles and San Francisco urging its adop- 
tion, and finally on February 3 the California legislature assented. 
By the time Colorado approved it on April 2 six states had rati- 
fied the Santa Fe Compact. 

In Arizona, however, the agreement struck trouble. The Re- 
publican administration which had negotiated the Compact had 
been defeated in the fall elections, and Democrat George W. P. 
Hunt had resumed his long reign as governor. Arriving in Ari- 
zona as a cowpuncher in its territorial days, Hunt had risen 
rapidly in local politics to become the first state governor in 1912. 
By the early twenties his powerful figure, with the familiar bald 
head and walrus mustache, had become a dominating institution 
in Arizona politics. Intellectually he was no heavyweight, but he 
possessed an uncanny political acumen which almost invariably 
landed him on his feet at election time. 

As the Colorado Compact came to Arizona under Republican 
auspices, Democrat Hunt opposed it on principle when he took 


office after the 1922 campaign. As the new legislature convened 
at Phoenix in January 1923, Hunt warned in his opening address 
against a water agreement which might be giving away Arizona's 
"greatest natural resource." 

"In laying before you the official copy of the compact," he said 
dramatically, "... I place in your hands the future destiny of 

Thus in one state the very thing happened which the commis- 
sioners had feared. The Colorado Compact became a political 
issue between opposing parties. Its merits were therefore lost in 
the maelstrom of partisan charges and countercharges. 

Yet the force which proved decisive in the Compact fight was 
Arizona's sudden interest in the resources of the Colorado River. 
Nothing had brought this transformation more than the pact 
itself, which made the state doggedly aware of her water necessi- 
ties. By the end of 1922 an engineering commission was dragging 
instruments across Arizona deserts, searching out a route for a 
gravity canal which would bring Colorado water to the fertile 
lands of the Phoenix plateau. 

The man behind this movement was George Maxwell, a 
Phoenix citizen who had championed Southwestern irrigation 
projects for twenty-five years. In the 18903 he had formed the 
National Reclamation Association and helped to lead the fight for 
federal water projects in general, and for Salt River Valley devel- 
opment in particular. More than any other man, he was respon- 
sible for securing the Reclamation Act of 1 902 and the construc- 
tion of Roosevelt Dam which immediately followed. 

The first suggestion for the gigantic scheme of irrigating mil- 
lions of acres in central Arizona by Colorado water was an article 
by Maxwell in the Los Angeles Times as early as 1905. But his 
project did not crystallize until after World War I, when he 
settled in Phoenix and pursued the idea with the characteristic 
zeal that had already carried the reclamation fight. 

By the early twenties he had made a rough survey of the route 
and determined the height of key mountain passes. Then he laid 
out "a possible plan for reclamation of ... an area of approxi- 
mately 2,000,000 acres and over." It required a dam at Bridge 
Canyon (between Boulder and the Grand Canyon), a tunnel 
some eighty miles long, and several hundred miles of canal 


altogether a project bold enough to make a practical irrigation- 
ist's hair stand on end. Bill Mulholland, viewing it with "con- 
siderable amusement," dismissed it as "absolutely ridiculous." 
Phil Swing remarked that Maxwell had "the advantage over 
engineers because he was not tied down to the facts." When A. P. 
Davis laughed at his explanations before a congressional commit- 
tee Maxwell was furious. 

"I never knew of anything that was really big being built," 
roared the old reclamationist, "that some people did not say it 
was impossible beforehand." 

But Maxwell succeeded in convincing Arizonans that his 
scheme was more than an irrigationist's dream. Enlarging on his 
rough plans, an engineering committee took the field and was still 
working out a report when the legislature began its consideration 
of the Compact in January 1923. Some of the engineers, called 
in for consultation by the Irrigation Committee of the upper 
house, described the possibility of using Colorado water "for 
generating several millions of horsepower of electric energy and 
for reclaiming more than two millions of acres of arid land, all 
within the state of Arizona." 

After that the Compact ratification was doomed. There was 
enough water in the river for such plans as these, but not in half 
the river. Almost the entire allocation for the lower basin would 
be needed for 2,000,000 acres; but at the rate California was 
appropriating the water, there would be little left by the time 
Arizona's scheme could be made feasible. Arizona was willing to 
compete with the entire basin for the use of the river, but she 
could not afford to be thrown in a match race with California 
for half of it. For the first time Arizona now realized that the 
Compact would leave her with the same fate from which it had 
spared the upper basin. If Arizona ratified the instrument she 
would be squeezed between the upper states and California. 

Leading the fight against ratification, George Maxwell wrote 
articles for every anti-pact newspaper in the state, and carried his 
crusade before chambers of commerce and service clubs. In the 
legislature the Compact battle waged for weeks while the Repub- 
licans argued for ratification and the Democrats blocked it. After 
first accepting the Compact with conditions, then with certain 
"interpretations," the legislature finally failed to ratify by a tie 

vote in the House of Representatives on March 8, 1923. The one 
chance for a water agreement in the Southwest had been killed. 
As the upper states would allow no river development without a 
compact, the biggest victim would be the proposed Boulder Dam. 
California was paying a bitter price for ignoring its water men at 
Santa Fe. 

As soon as Arizona's rejection became known in the other basin 
states she encountered a chorus of criticism. Failure to join the 
other six states in a Colorado agreement made her a virtual out- 
cast. Upper-basin men declared that until the Compact was rati- 
fied they would oppose construction anywhere in the lower basin 
including Arizona's Gila River. A California newspaper ran a 
cartoon picturing Arizona as a "dog in the manger" over the 
Colorado River. One Arizonan answered that the cartoon should 
have shown California as a "dog running away with the bone." 

The simple fact was that the Compact served the interest of 
the other six states but not of Arizona. Through it the upper basin 
secured unlimited use of Colorado water, California got support 
for Boulder Dam, and Nevada got the commercial benefits of the 
dam's construction. Arizona would share in the latter, but it had 
bigger reclamation plans which were blasted by a fifty-fifty divi- 
sion of the Colorado. 

"Santa Fe is not Sinai," insisted one Arizona spokesman. "The 
Compact is nothing but a contract between interested parties. It 
is not divine. No other state has shown any altruism in this 
transaction, but Arizona alone has not posed as being benevo- 

Neither was the state sparing in its self-interest. Since the site for 
Boulder Dam was too far down the river to permit a gravity canal 
to the Phoenix area, Arizona had no more use for it than for the 
Compact. Its main effect, said the Arizonans, would be to regulate 
the flow of the river, increasing its low-water stage, so that more 
land could be cultivated in Lower California. If it was true that 
there was less water in the river than could be used by all the 
arable land in the basin, the more water Mexico put to use the 
less would be available for Arizona when its great plans ma- 

Harry Chandler and his Mexican lands, already the foe of 
Imperial Valley, now became the great bugaboo for Arizona. In 


Imperial he was said to be fighting Boulder Dam because it made 
an All-American Canal possible. In Arizona he was said to be 
the guiding power behind Boulder Dam because it would yield 
him more irrigating water. It was an ironic demonstration that 
nothing helps a cause so much as the right enemies. 

Nor were Arizona's demands confined to water. The millions 
of horsepower in hydroelectric energy stored in the Colorado 
canyon were looked upon by Arizonans as part of their state's 
natural resources. When California proposed to build Boulder 
Dam and use some of this potential water power, Arizona levied 
her demand: a royalty on every kilowatt equal to the tax that 
could be expected from a private corporation. Since Arizona was 
equally vigorous in fighting the project itself, Californians looked 
upon this new requirement as a consideration for her acquies- 
cence on Boulder Dam. The irate mayor of San Diego, John L. 
Bacon, simply called it "hush money." Arizonans called it a 
royalty tax for the use of a natural resource. 

Meanwhile Boulder Dam itself was vigorously opposed by 
George Maxwell and his "High-Liners," as the group was called 
which clamored for a high-line canal from the Colorado to cen- 
tral Arizona. Through articles, speeches, and mass meetings they 
made Arizona believe she was the intended victim of a California 
conspiracy. The irrepressible Maxwell made the anti-dam fight 
the crusade of his National Reclamation Association; up and 
down Arizona he went on a membership drive, backing his words 
with a formidable pamphlet against the project. 

"Now that means," he would say, shoving the leaflet before a 
prospective member, "that the construction profit goes to Las 
Vegas; the franchise goes to Nevada; the power goes to Los 
Angeles; the water goes to Mexico; and Arizona goes to hell." 

The appeal was irresistible, if the facts were not. Except in 
those sections along the river which would benefit by the dam, 
Arizona sentiment was formed solidly against it by the end of 
1924. Even Republicans who supported the Compact had noth- 
ing but hostility for the "California scheme." No candidate for 
public office could afford to miss a chance for a blast at Boulder. 

Across the Colorado, California was equally fired in favor of 
the dam and all the water and power development it promised. 
In May 1923 delegates from Imperial and Coachella valleys, Los 


Angeles and San Diego, and every community which looked to 
the Colorado for its growth, met at Fullerton and formed the 
Boulder Dam Association, "to advance by all legitimate means 
the construction by the Government of the Boulder Dam and 
All-American Canal. . . ." Led by Mayors John L. Bacon of San 
Diego and S. C. Evans of Riverside, it became a clearinghouse for 
publicity and political strategy on the Swing- Johnson bill. South- 
ern Californians were showered with pamphlets and besieged 
with speeches on the development in store for their section 
through the great dam. A formidable lobby of the ablest men 
was maintained in Washington at every session of Congress to 
support Swing and Johnson in their fight. W. B. Mathews, per- 
sonal friend and political pillar of Hiram Johnson, became such 
a familiar figure in the Capitol that he earned the nickname, 
"California's Third Senator." Providing a background of con- 
stant agitation was the Hearst newspaper chain, which was wed- 
ded to the project from the beginning by its advocacy of govern- 
ment reclamation, public power, and Hiram Johnson. 

Natural enemies of this combination were the Los Angeles 
Times and the electric-power utilities of Southern California. 
They favored a dam for flood control only on the Colorado 
River, and objected to the government's building any structure 
high enough to put it in the power business. Imperial Valley was 
also aware of opposition to the All-American Canal by the Times, 
whose owner held vast acreages of cotton lands below the border. 

A major test of strength between the two factions came in the 
Los Angeles city elections of 1924, when Boulder Dam was the 
main political issue. In spite of furious campaigning by the 
Times, nearly every Boulder supporter was swept into office by a 
rousing majority. The popular sentiment had already been sensed 
by Dr. John R. Haynes, Southland Republican leader and chair- 
man of the Los Angeles water and power board. He wrote Calvin 
Coolidge that presidential support for Boulder Dam would be 
not only "right, just, and proper," but "tactful and politic." 
When Coolidge's Southern California campaign manager later 
advised the same thing to help carry the state, the President 
broke his silence on Boulder Dam. 

"I am in favor of a high dam at or near Boulder Canyon," he 
announced in October 1924, ". . . and I believe that the United 


States Government is the proper agency to undertake the work." 

Undoubtedly the move helped Goolidge to carry California in 
the campaign of 1924. From that year on Boulder Dam was as 
much a political band wagon for California office seekers as it 
was a political whipping boy for those in Arizona. 

Greatest campaigner of all was the drought of the early twen- 
ties. If any doubt of the dam's necessity remained in Imperial, it 
was dispelled when the farmers used the entire Colorado River 
for seventy- three straight days in the late summer of 1924, and 
still saw some crops wither of thirst. California cities which de- 
pended on Sierra streams for electric power suddenly faced a 
critical shortage. E. F. Scattergood of the Los Angeles power 
bureau declared that only Boulder Dam could save the city from 
a loss of investment and assure its continued growth. 

As early as 1923, Los Angeles was looking to the Colorado for 
more than power. Years of sparse snowfall on the Sierras had 
made the city's Owens River aqueduct a trickling stream. Shrewd 
old Bill Mulholland knew the loss of San Fernando Valley crops 
was only the beginning. If he did not begin to plan now for a 
new source of water Los Angeles would find its mushroom growth 
cut off abruptly. 

Through the early twenties a deluge of population was bursting 
Los Angeles at the seams. The sudden doubling of population 
after its 1920 census of 576,000 amazed its water men and upset 
their calculations for the future. Without a new water hole for 
this Southwestern giant, the next drought might attack not only 
crops but lives. 

In October 1923, Mulholland took a small corps of friends and 
engineers from the Water Department and boarded the Union 
Pacific for Las Vegas, Nevada. On the banks of the Colorado 
they looked down at the brown serpent gliding below. 

"Well," observed the Chief, "here's where we get our water." 

The prospect was breath-taking. Water would have to be 
pumped out of the canyon and over several mountain ranges to 
the coastal plain. Here was no Owens River aqueduct, with its 
downhill flow all the way to Los Angeles. As an engineering feat 
it would have few rivals; this would be, as Mulholland realized, 
"the largest aqueduct the world has ever seen." 

Plunging into the river with two boats, the Chief and his com- 


panions rode downstream through Boulder Canyon. Below Parker 
they left the water and headed westward again on the Santa Fe. 
They had seen enough of this "last water hole" to be convinced 
that Los Angeles could safely bid for a share. 

From then on the city moved quickly, driven by unparalleled 
drought. High up in the Sierras, where snow should have been 
packed fifteen to twenty feet deep, there was only a scattering of 
it in shaded gorges during the winter of 1 924. 

"This drought is one of the most appalling things that could 
happen," admitted Mulholland. "We have never even half con- 
ceived of such a thing." 

In July 1924, Mulholland filed for 1500 second-feet of Colo- 
rado water nearly four times the capacity of the Owens River 
aqueduct. In acre-feet per year it measured out to more than 
1,000,000 just about one eighth of the share allotted the lower 
basin by the Compact. That same year Phil Swing introduced 
Mulholland before the House Irrigation Committee in Washing- 
ton as a new proponent of Boulder Dam. 

"I am here in the interest of a domestic water supply for the 
city of Los Angeles," Mulholland told the congressmen; "and that 
injects a new phase into this whole matter." 

It did indeed. The committee was impressed by his plea for 
municipal water. Arizona redoubled her opposition to Boulder 
Dam, which would help California appropriate more of the river. 
Upper states representatives were more determined than ever to 
resist the dam until the Colorado Compact became effective by 
Arizona's ratification. In Southern California the possibility of a 
Colorado aqueduct brought new water-scarce communities to the 
Boulder Dam banner. Over a forty-year period the 315 square 
miles of artesian area around Los Angeles had shrunk to a scant 
55 miles through unrestricted pumping. Wells that had yielded 
strong artesian fountains at the turn of the century now held their 
water fifty and more feet below the surface. Pasadena, Santa 
Monica, Long Beach, San Bernardino, and almost every nearby 
city became enthusiastic members of the Boulder Dam Asso- 

By 1 925 most of them had begun to organize into a Metropoli- 
tan Water District, which would undertake to build the great 
aqueduct from the Colorado. So great was popular feeling for the 


program that when the California legislature refused to grant the 
proposed district a charter those members who voted against it 
were turned out at the next election. In 1927 the legislature was 
careful to authorize the project, and the following year Los 
Angeles, Pasadena, and a handful of charter cities founded the 
Metropolitan Water District. They were prepared to reach four 
hundred miles across the desert for life-giving water. 

Farther down the coast San Diego was also hard hit by 
drought. Furiously developing all possible sources in its nearby 
mountains, she turned in final desperation to the Colorado. In 
April 1926, San Diego filed for 110,000 acre-feet a year of Colo- 
rado water, and set about discovering a route for an aqueduct. 
Even in the rural communities in the San Gabriel and Santa 
Ana valleys citrus and vegetable farmers were looking to the 
Colorado for relief. 

Through the twenties Boulder Dam, the All-American Canal, 
and the Colorado Aqueduct became Southern California's great 
hope for continued expansion. Every community from the river 
to the coast rallied behind Johnson and Swing with a continuous 
barrage of publicity, political pressure, and irresistible enthu- 

But in Washington, Phil Swing was finding that Boulder Dam 
faced formidable competition. No matter how meritorious his 
project, there were a dozen others already demanding the atten- 
tion of the nation. Introducing a revised Boulder Canyon bill in 
December 1923, Swing opened the second round of his campaign 
before the House Irrigation Committee the following month. In 
his initial speech he began by comparing Boulder with other na- 
tional projects, hoping to convince the committee of its prior 
importance. But to water-minded Westerners, who composed the 
group, Swing had merely opened a Pandora's box of pet reclama- 
tion schemes. 

"Mr. Swing," interrupted the congressman from Oregon, "in 
mentioning these great projects do you not overlook the Umatilla 
Rapids project?" 

"Do not overlook the Great Salt Lake basin project," added 
the Utah representative. By this time Swing realized his mistake. 

"Do not forget that we have a big project in Montana." 

"Also the Pit River project in California. I just wanted to get 
that in." 

"And please do not forget the San Carlos project in Arizona." 

Swing was offering to let them submit a written list for the 
record when the Kansas member interrupted : 

"I would like to say a word in behalf of the Missouri River." 

This was enough to snap Swing's patience. 

"Of course," he cut in sweetly, "the Missouri River will live 
forever, both in song and poetry. Mark Twain made it famous." 

Before the Kansan could elaborate, Swing hurried on with his 
Boulder Dam speech, having learned a lesson in water geography 
and the ways of congressmen. He knew already that persuasion 
alone would not carry Boulder Dam through the two-ring con- 
gressional circus. After two years of fruitless argument Swing de- 
cided on a change of tactics. Henceforth he would become a 
listener; he would be one of the most sympathetic men in Con- 
gress on other states' projects. In the end it proved the key for- 
mula in winning friends for Boulder Dam. 

It also gave enough alarm to the project's enemies to make 
them rally in desperate opposition. An association of electric 
companies set up a headquarters in Washington to fight the pas- 
sage of Boulder Dam and other government power measures. 
The Arizona High-Liners pleaded that Boulder Dam was too far 
down the river to serve their state with a gravity flow, and in- 
sisted that Congress choose a site farther upstream for the Colo- 
rado's first dam. But to this argument A. P. Davis, Herbert 
Hoover, and other engineers had an undeniable answer : no other 
large storage site was within practical transmission distance of 
the power market in Southern California, and no other was far 
enough downstream to control the heavy silt discharge of the 
Little Colorado and Virgin tributaries. 

Arizona, however, had another formidable point. Engineer E. 
C. La Rue, who had helped make the initial survey for the high 
line, came to the House hearings fresh from a trip down the 
Colorado with the Geological Survey. Boulder Dam, he said, 
would equalize the flow of the river, making a bigger volume in 
the low-water stage. Thus while Arizona was denied a supply by 
the dam's location, Harry Chandler's Mexican lands would be 
able to establish new and bigger rights to the river's flow. His 


studies showed, moreover, that the United States could not afford 
to do this, as there was not enough water in the river to supply all 
irrigable lands in the basin. 

This statement took the committee by surprise. One member 
excitedly observed, "So far all the evidence before the committee 
has been all the other way that there was enough water on this 

"I have always understood it that way," agreed another. 

"That makes this question very important." 

"It does." 

But La Rue's story could not be shaken. He later reappeared 
with statistics to prove that over 900,000 arable acres must go 
unirrigated somewhere. Phil Swing pointed out that the Imperial 
Irrigation District could prevent any benefit to Mexico from 
Boulder Dam by taking the added water into its All-American 
Canal at the crucial seasons. Arizona, however, would not be 
talked out of her new and effective slogan : "For every acre put 
under irrigation in Mexico by Boulder Dam, one acre in America 
is forever condemned to desert." 

Bolstered by this weapon, the Arizona forces redoubled their 
attack when the Boulder fight shifted to the Senate side. But as 
hearings began in earnest before the Irrigation Committee in the 
fall of 1925 they faced the implacable figure of California's 
Hiram Johnson. Calling upon his early training as a courtroom 
prosecutor, the veteran lawmaker moved against the Arizona wit- 
nesses with relentless cross-examination. When La Rue claimed 
that Boulder Dam could not be fitted into the best plan for de- 
veloping the river Johnson showed him no mercy. Where, he 
queried, did Mr. La Rue think the first Colorado dam should be 
built? The witness hedged, stating that the other sites had not 
been drilled for depth of bedrock. 

"So that you cannot say definitely at this time," prodded John- 
son, "which dam would first be built under your plan?" 

"No, sir." 

"Nor where it should be built?" 

"No, sir," repeated La Rue, and attempted to explain. 

Johnson cut him off, insisting, "As I understand you, you are 
not able at the present time, with the data at your command, to 
suggest a definite substitute. Now is that statement correct?" 


"Well, unfortunately it is correct," croaked the harassed La 
Rue. "And that is the reason why we should not have a dam 
built on that river until we have the information." 

"I think 'unfortunately it is correct,' " mocked Johnson, clinch- 
ing his argument. "I think we now understand the situation." 

The triumph was the beginning of the end of La Rue's impres- 
sive testimony. Bombarded with technical questions from other 
committee members, he protested that he could not carry all the 
figures in his head. Finally he exploded bitterly that he had 
worked months on his calculations, "and if you can figure out 
mistakes in these, or suggest a better plan in a few minutes in this 
room, it would seem to me to be nothing short of a miracle." 

His cause scarcely advanced by this outburst, La Rue next 
found his technical claims challenged by Frank Weymouth, a 
distinguished Reclamation Bureau engineer who had completed 
a ponderous report favoring Boulder Dam the year before. He 
testified that La Rue's plan for developing the river, which left 
out Boulder completely, would waste more water and generate 
less power than the Reclamation Bureau plan. 

But despite this setback the Arizonans continued to champion 
La Rue and his river report. They now had engineering data of 
their own with which to attack Boulder Dam. Against its wit- 
nesses they turned with the same ferocity that Johnson displayed 
against their own. At length Arizona's tall and fiery champion, 
Senator Henry Ashurst, loosed a memorable threat : 

"Arizona asks that this dam be placed high enough up the 
river so that we may irrigate our uplands. The Colorado River 
is Arizona's jugular vein; sever our jugular vein and we die. We 
have asked you in polite language and we now ask in vehement 
language to build the dam far enough up the river." 

The stalemate over the Colorado continued on every front in 
1925. In Congress the Swing- Johnson bill was shunted aside by 
being referred to an engineering committee "for further study." 
Negotiations between Arizona and California on a lower-basin 
agreement were deadlocked. Arizonans were insisting they would 
never ratify the Colorado Compact without such a lower states 
pact; Colorado and the upper states were equally determined to 
oppose Boulder Dam until Arizona's ratification made the Com- 
pact effective. 

There still seemed hope of unlocking this log jam when the 
Arizona legislature convened in 1925. Irreconcilable old George 
Hunt had been re-elected governor on an anti-Compact, anti- 
Boulder, anti-California campaign. But the pro-Compact faction 
had captured the chairmanship in both legislative houses. The 
Interior Department, two congressional committees, and six states 
now waited in the hope that Arizona would ratify. 

A tremendous fight developed in both chambers that had the 
Phoenix Capitol fairly trembling by the second week in March. 
On the eleventh a crowd of "anti-pactists" gathered in the Capi- 
tol's first-floor corridor, heard speeches from George Maxwell 
and other High-Liners, and made their presence known by the 
angry noise that drifted to the legislative chambers upstairs. After 
a stormy debate the House of Representatives ratified the instru- 
ment with heavy reservations, including a stipulation that the 
Gila River be reserved for Arizona outside the Compact's allot- 

But when it was proposed that Governor Hunt's approval was 
necessary for final ratification, taut nerves snapped and the 
chamber almost exploded. Republicans and Democrats shouted 
each other down while the chairman pounded for order. One 
member challenged another to meet him outside; three excited 
speakers had to be forced to their seats by the sergeant at arms. 
At last the amendment for the governor's approval was defeated 
in a close vote. 

On the other side of the Capitol an aroused Senate first re- 
jected the Compact, then reversed itself and ratified. Seven copies 
of the final joint resolution, laden with reservations, were handed 
over to the Secretary of State for transmission to the other basin 
states and the federal government. But he simply turned about 
and faithfully delivered them to Governor Hunt, who declared 
the ratification "void, worthless, and of no effect." Though his 
outraged opponents charged that he had no right to veto a rati- 
fication, Hunt made his action stick. 

"I'll be damned," he bellowed at the next election, "if Cali- 
fornia ever will have any water from the Colorado River as long 
as I am governor of Arizona." 

In spite of pugnacious "George V," as his enemies called him, 
there was still hope that Arizona and California water men might 


be able to agree on a lower-basin compact. On August 17, 1925, 
representatives of the two states, together with those of Nevada, 
gathered around a conference table in Phoenix and began the 
first of a series of bargaining sessions that have lasted for twenty- 
five years. The meeting was almost doomed from the start. Gov- 
ernor Hunt opened it with a partisan speech that cast doubts on 
Boulder Dam and almost sounded like an ultimatum on Arizona's 
river rights. The California delegation was furious. 

"I would like to ask," its leader demanded of the Arizona 
group, "whether or not the address of Governor Hunt expresses 
the sentiment of the committee." 

A heated exchange followed that lasted through the rest of the 
session. California and Nevada insisted that Arizona agree to 
Boulder Dam before discussing a lower-basin compact. Arizona 
countered that she would have to know the details of the dam's 
operation before she could even consider agreeing. Behind their 
maneuvering was some hard strategy; undoubtedly Arizona 
wanted to use her approval of Boulder Dam as a trump card in 
the negotiations, while California and Nevada wanted the card 
played first to reduce Arizona's bargaining power. At length it 
was obvious that neither side would relent. 

"I think that it is a waste of time to attempt to negotiate any 
further," concluded the California chairman. 

"You want us to sign on the dotted line, do you?" retorted an 

"No, I don't want you to sign anything." 

It was a fair description of the situation. That first conference 
broke up with little will to agree in either camp. To a large extent 
Arizonans thought that by obstructing the Colorado Compact 
they could block Boulder Dam. At the same time other events 
were stirring in the Colorado basin that made Calif ornians be- 
lieve they could get Boulder Dam regardless of Arizona. 

It was the resourceful Delph Carpenter of Colorado who first 
presented an alternate plan. Since Arizona would not ratify the 
seven-state Compact, he argued, why not a six-state compact? So 
long as California could be pinned down to a water division, the 
upper basin might take its chances with Arizona. After getting 
the approval of other leaders in the Rocky Mountain states, Car- 
penter took his proposition to California. He found its water 

men agreeable enough; a six-state compact would require new 
ratification by the legislature, and they would have a chance to 
attach a proviso for construction of a high dam at Boulder. At 
last they could make certain that the Compact would work for 
California's cause. 

The new six-state Compact was submitted to the upper-basin 
legislatures in February 1925. Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico 
promptly ratified it, as did Nevada of the lower basin. In Wyo- 
ming the legislature killed the new pact on the last night of its 
session; but Governor Frank Emerson, who had helped to frame 
the Compact at Santa Fe, held the lawmakers in continuous ses- 
sion until they decided to ratify. 

California's legislature took up the six-state Compact late in 
February 1925. Attached to it, in what became known as the 
Finney Resolution, was the proviso that ratification by California 
would take place whenever Congress authorized a 20,000,000- 
acre-foot reservoir "at or below Boulder Canyon." 

Implications in the move raised immediate protests. Such huge 
storage meant a high dam, and a high dam meant hydroelectric 
power. California's utility companies did not intend to let the 
Los Angeles Bureau of Water and Power write such a rider into 
the Compact. Their agents in Sacramento quickly organized 
against the bill. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and 
Harry Chandler's Times joined the opposition. Governors of 
upper-basin states served notice that they would not countenance 
such a reservation in the Compact. Herbert Hoover sent a hur- 
ried telegram to the California governor; if the legislature made 
any reservations, he warned, "the whole Compact will need to be 
abandoned and we will have another setback for five years in the 
development of the river." 

But at the same time the Los Angeles water men, the Imperial 
Irrigation District, the Boulder Dam Association, and Hiram 
Johnson's political forces in California all swung behind the 
Finney Resolution. After heated debate in both houses it passed 
by large majorities on April 5, 1925, and was signed into law. 
Mark Rose and the I.I.D. immediately sent their congratulations 
to the legislature for "having stood stanchly by the people against 
the corporate interests. . . ." But the Los Angeles Times berated 
the act next day under the headline, "Colorado Compact Killed." 

At first the reactions among the upper states bore out the fear 
that the Finney Resolution was a dangerous expedient. While 
Californians insisted that it merely established a date for ratifica- 
tion, upper states representatives called it a reservation which 
threw a new wrench into the Compact machinery. California, 
they insisted, was obstructing Colorado development as much as 
Arizona. When the Senate Irrigation Committee resumed con- 
sideration of the Boulder Dam bill in December 1925, Delph 
Carpenter was on hand to block it. 

"Had California adopted the six-state Compact as the other 
states did," he angrily told the committee, "the Compact would 
be before you now and the whole question could now be settled." 

Senators from the Rocky Mountain states joined Carpenter in 
claiming that California had killed the six-state Compact. Hiram 
Johnson was forcibly denying the charge when William H. King 
of Utah interrupted him. 

"Some of us think contrary, Senator," he shouted, "and feel 
that California did destroy the Compact. We feel that no action 
can be taken by Congress until California withdraws her reser- 

There the matter stood in a deadlock that resembled a vicious 
circle. California would not ratify the Compact until Boulder 
Dam was assured. The upper states would not allow Boulder 
Dam until California ratified unconditionally. Behind the stale- 
mate was California's fear of the private power interests. Her 
public water and power boosters believed the upper states were 
motivated by the utility companies in their opposition to Boulder. 
California would therefore take no chances on dividing the water 
without being certain that the upper states would actually fulfill 
their bargain and support the dam. 

For more than a year the determination of upper-basin con- 
gressmen blocked any progress on the Swing-Johnson bill. In 
October 1926 the California governor, hoping to break the inter- 
state deadlock, called the legislature into special session to with- 
draw the Finney Resolution. But the Boulder Dam advocates, 
rising in protest, beat down the proposal for repeal. 

The upper states, having waited for the outcome of the vote, 
now realized that California's stand was irrevocable. Their water 
men met in Denver and drafted some twenty amendments to the 


Swing- Johnson bill for protection of their water rights. Ward 
Bannister took them to Washington and told the House Irrigation 
Committee that if they were accepted the upper basin would 
support Boulder Dam. Phil Swing and Hiram Johnson were 
prompt in accepting them, and it seemed that the interstate row 
had been patched at last. 

But Utah was irreconcilable. When California's legislature 
failed to withdraw its storage proviso the Utah governor deplored 
the act in a heated letter. 

"Apparently California is in no hurry to have the Swing- John- 
son bill passed," he told California's governor. "Neither is Utah." 

Early in December, when the Swing- Johnson bill came out of 
both committees with a "do pass" recommendation, Congressman 
Leatherwood of Utah wrote his governor that California was 
making dangerous headway. Utah, he said, could block her by 
withdrawing from the six-state Compact, thus leaving the basin 
once again without a water agreement. Early in January 1927 a 
bill was introduced in the Utah legislature to repeal its rati- 

At the same time the powerful House Rules Committee, 
through which all bills must be cleared for floor debate, agreed 
to consider Swing's application for a right of way on Thursday, 
January 20. Utah's congressional delegation then offered an 
amendment to the Boulder Dam bill, which was supposedly re- 
jected, though Swing claimed he had never heard of it. All four 
of the Utah members of Congress two senators, two congress- 
men thereupon sent their state legislature a peremptory wire: 

"California's representatives refuse to consider amendment to 
protect Utah's interest in Boulder Dam bill. . . . Utah legisla- 
ture should take whatever action it deems proper at once, but not 
later than January 19." 

Obviously the "proper action" was the repeal of the six-state 
Compact, to cut the ground from under the Swing- Johnson bill. 
But the president of Utah's state Senate had little imagination. 
He wired back for an explanation. The exasperated congressmen 
dropped their courtesy. 

"All we want is repeal of the six-state Compact," shot back 
Utah's veteran Senator Reed Smoot. ". . . Pass bill Monday." 

The order has since become famous. Utah's legislature obedi- 

ently repealed its Compact ratification on Monday, January 17. 
The six-state Compact, which would have gone into effect with 
the passage of the Swing- Johnson bill, was now smashed. The 
entire upper basin would have to oppose Boulder Dam. It would 
now be a near miracle if Swing got his bill past the House Rules 

Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times had leaped with gusto into 
this rising climax to the Boulder Dam fight. Still opposing any 
government power development, Harry Chandler threw his 
weight behind a simple flood control dam at Needles. In an effort 
to stampede this proposal through Congress he rushed corre- 
spondents to Imperial Valley to build up a case for flood menace. 

In December 1926, Chandler's paper began to blossom with 
stories on the Colorado's threat to Imperial, complete with photos 
of former flood damage and inadequate levees. The entire valley 
was pictured as living in fear of the record snow pack on the far- 
off Rockies, source of the Colorado's runoff. This would not bring 
floods until spring, but in the meantime every winter freshet of 
the Gila tributary was seized upon as a threatening flood. Phil 
Swing, realizing Chandler's strategy, wrote Imperial leaders to 
pay no attention to the clamor for flood control. Mark Rose ex- 
citedly called it "the most treasonable conspiracy of a genera- 
tion." Both men knew Chandler was now in deadly earnest, and 
were witnessing the full, irresistible force of a Times editorial 

Five days before adjournment on March 4 the Times flood 
control drive reached a clattering din. But Swing and Johnson 
were able to hold their supporters in line; they had not worked 
five years for the Boulder Dam bill to have it shattered by an 
emergency dam at Needles. The Times retired in defeat, charging 
that the fate of Imperial Valley now rested on their heads. But if 
the flood control scheme had failed. Swing's own bill had also 
died in the Rules Committee. 

Over in the Senate, Hiram Johnson was making better head- 
way. The Boulder Dam bill reached the floor, but there it rested 
through the unyielding opposition of Arizona. There was no 
doubt that Johnson had enough support for his measure, but his 
problem was to maneuver it to a vote. Senators Ashurst and 
Cameron of Arizona had warned that as soon as the bill came up 
for debate they would talk it to death. 


On February 21 the Senate took up Boulder Dam in earnest. 
After Johnson's opening speech Henry Ashurst jumped up and 
secured the floor. Within a few minutes the chamber knew that 
the filibuster was on. 

Ashurst first talked of the mighty Colorado, its length and its 
tributaries; then he launched into his favorite subject Arizona. 
The Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and other scenic wonders 
droned from his lips. After several hours he was relieved by Sena- 
tor Cameron, who still held the floor when the Senate adjourned 
for the day. 

On the twenty-second, with Cameron still controlling the de- 
bate, Hiram Johnson launched his own strategy. As floor manager 
of the bill, he was able to insist that the Senate remain in contin- 
uous session through the night. If Arizona wanted a showdown 
she would now have it. 

Cameron was still talking when Ashurst relieved him just be- 
fore midnight. Most of the senators had gone home to bed, but it 
was up to Johnson to keep a quorum on hand. When some of the 
members refused to answer the summons the sergeant at arms was 
authorized to get warrants for their arrest. By 2 140 A.M. a quorum 
of sleepy-eyed senators filled the chamber. At this hour of the 
morning they cared little for Boulder Dam, even less for Senator 

But the Arizonan talked on. By three o'clock he began over 
again on his opening speech, reciting the Colorado's tributaries, 
Arizona's scenery, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon. His 
listeners sank deeper in their chairs. Near five some of his weary 
colleagues were trying to help him get a recess. But Ashurst re- 
fused, fearing that he would lose the floor in yielding to anyone 
for such a purpose. 

"This is going to be a savage fight," he admonished them 
hoarsely. "Do not beguile yourselves with the belief that this is 
going to be a soft-glove affair. This is a fight to the finish. . . ." 

His audience had faded once more, but by the full light of 
morning the sergeant at arms had secured another quorum. 
Shortly afterward Senator Lawrence Phipps of Colorado, practi- 
cally an open representative of private power, came to the Ari- 
zonan's rescue and took the floor. 

Johnson's famous all-night session was over. Ashurst had met 


the challenge and had passed the torch to another. But now the 
entire nation, made aware of the spectacle by newspaper head- 
lines, was aroused to the drama of Hiram Johnson's battle. While 
the filibusterers droned on, Americans from coast to coast waited 
for the outcome. 

Hiram Johnson knew he dared not hold the Senate in another 
continuous session. One more sleepless night would not leave his 
colleagues favorably disposed toward Boulder Dam. But a final 
weapon remained. Johnson himself had opposed cloture the 
limiting of debate by a two-thirds vote but he now turned to it 
in desperation. 

Next day, while Henry Ashurst held the floor and read the 
senators an unending succession of documents, the Californian 
passed from desk to desk with his cloture petition. Ashurst saw 
what he was doing and, with reddening face, talked on more 
determinedly than ever. At last Johnson strode resolutely down 
the aisle to the rostrum and demanded that he be allowed to 
introduce his petition. 

Vice- President Charles Dawes was out of the chamber, and a 
senator was substituting in the chair. He hesitated while Ashurst 
loudly denied Johnson's right to present the cloture motion. Just 
as loudly Johnson insisted that he be heard. Amid the babel he 
impatiently tossed the petition on the desk. 

Cameron of Arizona then leaped up and doubled Arizona's 
noise; for a time all three senators were shouting at once. Vice- 
President Dawes hurried into the room and irritatedly took the 
gavel from his substitute, who retired in obvious relief. After a 
vigorous pounding on the rostrum Dawes silenced the pande- 
monium. Quietly he ordered that Johnson could introduce his 
resolution limiting debate. 

Ashurst saw his defense crumbling. Angrily he appealed the 
ruling, but was voted down. Then the Arizonan exploded. In a 
frenzied voice he charged that Johnson was trying to smother 
Arizona, and called him a "bifurcated, peripatetic volcano, in 
perpetual eruption, belching fire and smoke. . . ." With out- 
stretched hands, his face flushed, his words quavering, he shouted 
that Arizona was being strangled. 

"Senators, if you vote for this cloture motion you may drown 
the voice of Arizona, but there will ever afterwards be in your 


bosom an unstilled voice from which you cannot escape . . . 
your conscience." 

The admonition was enough. The cloture lost its necessary two- 
thirds majority. Johnson had been beaten twice in his attempts 
to stop the filibuster and now found himself out of weapons. The 
Boulder Dam bill died when the Galifornian agreed to take up 
other urgent legislation before the March 4 congressional dead- 
line. Arizona had won the first round in the Senate arena. Boul- 
der Dam was now dead in both houses. 

There was nothing to do now but wait till the next session of 
Congress in December 1927. But Johnson's spectacular fight in 
the Senate had brought the issue before the entire country and 
had captured the imagination of a public which appreciated a 
good scrap. Through the summer and fall the California water 
men and the Hearst newspapers worked to keep this interest alive. 
Led by Mayor Sam C. Evans of Riverside, the Boulder Dam 
Association kept up its publicity, sending speakers and pamphlets 
across the country. When Swing and Johnson introduced their 
new bills early in December, they had a nationwide organization 
behind them. Letters and telegrams were soon pouring in on 
Congress, urging early debate. The House Rules Committee sent 
the bill to the floor on May 15. 

It was now thoroughly amended to meet the arguments of its 
enemies. Charges that the government was entering the power 
business were answered by a provision that it would build the dam 
but not the generating stations, selling nothing more than falling 
water to local Southwestern power users. Even Arizona was 
placated with a royalty tax on every kilowatt of power generated 
at the dam a privilege which was to be shared by Nevada. 

But Swing found that Arizona still opposed the dam on the 
water issue. She was joined by Utah, whose legislature had with- 
drawn its approval of the Compact. Her senior Representative, 
Elmer O. Leatherwood, stood ready to continue his fight against 
Swing's bill. Though ill from overwork, the old warrior appeared 
on the chamber floor when debate opened on May 22 and 
harangued his colleagues for an hour in bitter opposition. Not 
many days later the Utah lawmaker died from complications 
brought on by fatigue. It was said that he was a victim of the 
Boulder Dam fight. 

The day after Leather-wood's speech the opposition was taken 
up by young Lewis Douglas of Arizona, who had succeeded Carl 
Hayden as his state's sole Representative when the latter rose to 
the Senate. At thirty-three Douglas was "the baby of the House" ; 
it was the first appearance on the national scene of the man who 
was to become Director of the Budget and later Ambassador to 

After delivering his maiden speech against the Swing- Johnson 
bill, Douglas was left with the task of fighting singlehandedly a 
measure which the entire country and most of his colleagues were 
determined to pass. Debate was limited in the House, and a 
filibuster was impossible. His only chance was to smother the bill 
with amendments. But when Boulder Dam came up for final 
vote on May 25, 1928, Phil Swing met Douglas in the House 
corridor and warned him that he could limit debate to five 
minutes on each amendment if he chose. 

"I don't want to cut you off on any serious amendment," he 
explained. "But I understand you have about a hundred of them, 
and I'll not allow you to drag this bill to death." 

Douglas knew Swing could make good his threat. Arizona's 
only chance was to make the bill as acceptable as possible with 
some earnest amendments. Lewis Douglas promised he would 
introduce no more than twelve. 

Swing now went into the chamber with a majority of votes 
promised and House passage assured. This was to be the final 
fruit of eight years of strategy. The help he had invested in other 
sectional bills now came back with interest. John Garner of 
Texas, Democratic floor leader, had once come to him with a 
bill to create a commission for dealing with Mexico on the 
division of the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers. Swing had con- 
sulted with Hiram Johnson, and the two had earned Garner's 
gratitude by helping him pass the measure. 

With the flood problems of the Mississippi region Phil Swing 
had been particularly sympathetic. In his second term he had 
gained a seat on the House Flood Control Committee, and 
during the great deluge of 1927 had boated down the Mississippi 
with the committee inspecting the fearful damage. When the 
Mississippi Flood Control bill came before Congress he fought 
mightily for it, securing the friendship of the Southern congress- 

men. Once his Boulder Dam measure came to a vote, they 
promised him, there would not be a voice against it from the 
Mississippi Valley. It is said that one reluctant member, who 
opposed Swing's bill, was ushered into the corridor by his 
colleagues just before the roll call began. Those Southern con- 
gressmen took a promise seriously. 

All this accumulated strength was at Swing's command when 
Lewis Douglas unleashed his amendments on the House floor. 
As fast as they were introduced and explained by the lone 
Arizonan the House voted them down. 

But as Douglas dragged the session into the afternoon Swing 
feared a break in his line of support. The New York City 
Democrats, under the dominance of Tammany Hall, had 
promised their votes for that great national enterprise, Boulder 
Dam. Still, this was a Friday afternoon, and they were deter- 
mined to head home for the week end. Swing was reminded that 
they would have to catch the New York train that afternoon. 
As time wore on one New Yorker after another slipped over to 
Swing's desk and asked when the measure would come to a vote. 
At last Swing went to the chief of the Tammany delegation and 
offered to limit debate if it was necessary to insure the Tammany 

"Mr. Swing," boomed the New Yorker, pounding his desk, "I 
assure you, when the vote comes, they'll be here!" 

It was not long in coming. Douglas* last desperate chance 
came in a motion to send the bill back to committee. When it 
lost by a vote of 219-139, Douglas knew he was beaten. By three 
o'clock Swing's forces had regained the floor, and a few minutes 
later the roll call began. Jack Garner and his Texas colleagues 
contributed their votes. The entire Mississippi Valley delegation 
went for the measure without a dissenting voice. Tammany came 
through with its votes and headed for the railroad station. 
Boulder Dam passed the House by a safe majority. 

When the news of Swing's victory reached Imperial Valley 
its communities virtually erupted with joy. The streets of El 
Centre were jammed with hysterical celebrants. While bells 
clanged and whistles tooted, a hilarious automobile parade was 
hastily formed with mufflers open and horns blaring. That night 
a more organized but equally uproarious jubilee was held in 


Brawley. It was the biggest excitement in Imperial since the 

Hiram Johnson, however, was still fighting an uphill contest 
on the Senate side of the Capitol. The second Arizona filibuster 
began in earnest on May 26, bringing the bitter warning from 
Johnson that he would force "a test of physical endurance." This 
time Ashurst had a young and virile partner in obstruction. Carl 
Hayden. Together they kept debate dragging on Boulder Dam, 
supported at intervals by Utah Senators Reed Smoot and William 

At the same time Johnson was hampered by the old-guard 
leadership of his own party. Adjournment of the session was 
already overdue, and on May 27, Charles Curtis, Republican 
majority leader, moved for adjournment a step which would 
mean success for the filibuster and defeat for Boulder Dam. 
But Johnson was able to muster enough votes to tie up the 
motion 40-40, whereupon Vice-President Dawes cast the decid- 
ing vote against it. 

Debate was on once more, and Johnson increased the pressure 
by invoking his "endurance" test. The Senate was placed in 
continuous session once again another sleepless night for the 
harassed senators. Through the early morning hours of the 
twenty-eighth they were routed out of bed for quorum calls, 
while Ashurst went through his old speech on Arizona's scenery, 
including the Petrified Forest and "the equally petrified speeches 
of some of my colleagues." Arizona was still battling late in the 
morning when a final blow felled Johnson's hopes once more. 
Senator Curtis had been picking up votes during the nightlong 
session, and now tossed out his adjournment motion again. By 
a close count the Senate voted to end its business with that day's 
session. Johnson knew it was the end; Ashurst and Hayden could 
easily hold out through the afternoon and prevent a vote. With 
supreme resignation he capitulated and moved to consider other 

"Yes, I am whipped," he told his colleagues, "but, by heaven, 
another day is coming and then someone else will be whipped." 

He referred to the second session of the same Congress, due 
in December 1928. The Boulder Dam bill that had passed the 
House and reached the Senate floor would have to be given first 


consideration then. But Ashurst of Arizona warned that he and 
Hayden would be on hand to fight a vote "to the last drop of 
our blood. . . ." 

During that summer the California men made political 
progress. Senators King and Smoot of Utah had supported the 
Arizonans in their fight, but Phil Swing now moved to cut off that 
source of help. When the Union Pacific Railroad opened its 
new hotel on the north rim of the Grand Canyon he was on hand 
to witness the celebration merely as a representative Cali- 
fornian. But as the busses left the railroad at Cedar City for the 
drive to the canyon Swing was somehow seated in the first car 
alongside the head of Utah's Mormon Church, Heber J. Grant. 
While the coach rolled over the Utah countryside Swing leaned 
over and opened the conversation. Soon he was well into his 
stock Boulder Dam speech, raving on about "liquid gold" and 
"white coal." Heber Grant, tumbling to his purpose, interrupted. 

"Mr. Swing," he explained, "I'm only the spiritual head of 
the Church. President Ivins is in charge of business affairs." 

Swing was not dismayed. "Where is he?" 

"In the bus behind us." 

"Stop the bus!" cried Swing. "I'm in the wrong place." 

At the next stopping place he was ushered to the other coach, 
where he was introduced to Anthony W. Ivins, a leading coun- 
selor in the Church and a powerful figure in Mormon politics. 
By the time the caravan was rolling again Swing was launched 
once more on his Boulder Dam speech. When he had finished, 
Ivins smiled and gave his answer. 

"Mr. Swing, you know Senator Smoot is a stubborn man. I 
can't promise you his vote, but I'll promise you Senator King's 
support. And I will try to get Senator Smoot not to vote against 

Swing was elated. He had not hoped for such a response. For 
him the rest of the Grand Canyon tour was superfluous; he had 
accomplished his mission in getting the Mormon Church behind 
Boulder Dam. 

As soon as the Senate took up the Swing- Johnson bill in Decem- 
ber 1928, William King of Utah sought out Swing and proposed 
some amendments. The Californian knew this was the first fruit 


of his Utah excursion. Together King and the California group 
worked out six amendments satisfactory to both. While King 
introduced them on the Senate floor and Johnson "reluctantly" 
accepted them, Reed Smoot sat glowering at his desk. Swing, 
watching from the gallery, marveled at his own handiwork. 

But if Utah was now out of the way, Arizona was not. Hayden 
and Ashurst opened their third filibuster on December 5, ap- 
parently determined to talk through the entire session if neces- 
sary. It was a hopeless stand; even their former allies in the 
upper-basin states were now clamoring for a vote. 

For a week, while debate raged on the floor, negotiations were 
going on in the corridors and cloakrooms. The bitter deadlock 
between California and Arizona over water rights was now to be 
broken by writing into the bill a limitation on California's share. 
The amendment gave California a certain part of the 7,500,000 
acre-feet apportioned to the lower basin by the Compact, plus 
half the extra 1,000,000 acre-feet of III b water and half of any 
added surplus. 

But before this division could be voted on an unfortunate 
thing happened. On December 10, Senator Phipps of Colorado 
introduced a substitute amendment which made no specific 
mention of the extra 1,000,000 acre-feet. In addition to her share 
of apportioned water California was simply allowed one half 
the surplus. Here is the crux of the present feud between 
California and Arizona over III b water. Arizonans say that 
everybody knew the 1,000,000 was reserved exclusively for their 
state. Californians are equally insistent that everybody understood 
the surplus water included that 1,000,000. They argue that in 
six days of exhaustive debate there was no mention by Ashurst, 
Hayden, or anybody else of Arizona's having sole right to 
III b water. 

At any rate the Phipps amendment was adopted over Arizona's 
opposition on December 12, giving California 4,400,000 acre- 
feet of "apportioned" water and one half the surplus. But in its 
failure to define III b water were the seeds of continued conflict. 
For if California limited herself to 4,400,000 acre-feet of 
"apportioned" water, then it makes a lot of difference whether 
III b is "apportioned" or "surplus." Arizona says it is part of the 
lower basin's "apportioned" water, to which California has a 


definite limitation. California says it is part of the "surplus" water, 
of which she is entitled to one half. 

Nevertheless, that restricting amendment on December 12, 
1928, was the real end of the Boulder Dam battle. On the same 
day a motion was made to limit further debate thus spiking 
Arizona's last chance to filibuster. To Hiram Johnson's surprise, 
Hayden and Ashurst calmly kept their seats. They had been fore- 
warned of the move and were resigned at last to defeat. 

Boulder Dam came to a vote two days later. From his gallery 
seat Phil Swing watched the roll call a monotonous ending to 
a dramatic nine-year fight. He saw Senator King of Utah vote 
for the bill, as Anthony Ivins had predicted. The Mormon leader 
had not promised Senator Smoot's vote, but he had agreed to 
ask the "stubborn man" not to vote against it. Still, if Smoot 
backed down now on his pet annoyance he would look extremely 
foolish. As the roll call neared his name Smoot's face reddened. 
Just before his name was called he sat up, complained of a head- 
ache, and hurried out of the chamber without voting. Smoot's 
honor had been saved and Utah's promise had been kept to the 
end. Boulder Dam passed, 63-11. 

The House quickly agreed to the Senate amendments, and on 
December 21, Swing and Johnson were on hand to watch Calvin 
Coolidge sign their bill into law. Also watching was W. B. 
Mathews of Los Angeles, who had helped to bring about this 
historic day. From Washington to California some hundred other 
legislators, lobbyists, and publicists had reason to rejoice. The 
news reached the Southwest as the glorious Christmas present of 
1928. Imperial, San Diego, Los Angeles, Yuma, Las Vegas, and 
scores of other communities suddenly exploded with delirious 

Within a few weeks on March 4, 1929 California's legis- 
lature restricted its use of Colorado water in a Limitation Act, 
so as to comply with the Boulder Canyon law. Two days later 
the Utah legislature, urged by pressure from Anthony Ivins, 
renewed its ratification of the six-state Compact. Now every 
condition had been met. President Herbert Hoover, who had 
played his part in the long drama, was able to announce on June 
25 that the Boulder Canyon Project Act was in full operation. 

It was the end of the first great battle for the Southwest's last 


water hole. The conflicting interests had been satisfied, or nearly 
so. "For the American people as a whole/' concluded the New 
York Times, "it removes all obligation to try to understand what 
the Boulder Dam business is all about." But for the citizens of 
the Southwest it was a beginning. There remained the technical 
task of damming the Colorado and bringing the water to the 
people and the land. 

12: A Day for the Engineers 

The United States opened work on Boulder Dam with an en- 
thusiastic team of Californians in charge Elwood Mead of the 
Reclamation Bureau, formerly professor of engineering at the 
University of California; Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman 
Wilbur, since president of Stanford; and Herbert Hoover him- 
self. Together they took a proprietary interest in launching this 
project which would remake the face of the great Southwest. 
As soon as Congress appropriated the first $10,000,000 in July 
1930, Wilbur sent a historic message to Mead which set the 
national machinery in motion: 

"You are directed to commence construction on Boulder Dam 

Immediately the Reclamation Bureau hastened to draw up its 
specifications; the depression of the thirties had struck the nation, 
and the giant Southwestern project could be a desperately needed 
source of employment. In less than six months the government 
had surveyed Black Canyon chosen as a more promising site 
than nearby Boulder Canyon and had calculated its cost data. 
Then it announced a call for contract bids on the greatest con- 
struction job ever undertaken by man. 

No one engineering firm was big enough to tackle it. But three 
combinations of them submitted bids before the deadline of 
March 4, 1 93 1 . The contract went to an organization of some of 
the most experienced builders in the West Six Companies, Inc., 
whose low bid of $48,890,995.50 turned out to be just $24,000 
over the Reclamation Service estimates. 

Quickly the member firms completed their organization. As 


chairman of the board they chose financier Henry J. Kaiser of 
Oakland, whose dynamic energy was able to hold the group 
together without serious dissension. The actual task of field con- 
struction fell to Frank T. Crowe, a lanky, hardheaded engineer 
in his early fifties who had built and helped to build some of the 
biggest dams in the West. Crowe was a congenial friend but a 
hard-driving boss; he was the kind of field engineer who liked to 
boast, "I never bellied up to a desk in my life." While serving 
with the Reclamation Bureau in 1919 he had helped to make the 
first rough surveys between the Colorado's towering walls. Now 
the responsibility of fulfilling them was his. 

Then before Frank Crowe could begin his assault on the Colo- 
rado the state of Arizona made good her threat to fight Boulder 
Dam in the courts. In October 1 930, Arizona sought an injunction 
against construction from the Supreme Court, claiming that the 
Project Act was unconstitutional. Arizona's lawyers claimed it 
not only took away her control of dam and reservoir sites but 
enforced the Colorado Compact against her when she had not 
approved it. California, the Interior Department, and the other 
basin states promptly argued that the suit be dismissed for failure 
to show any real damage to Arizona. In an 8-1 decision the Su- 
preme Court threw out the case in May 1931. Arizona's last at- 
tempt to block Boulder Dam had failed. 

It was mid-March 1931 when Frank Crowe, armed with 
charts and blueprints, reached the site of construction in the 
desolate heart of the great Southwestern basin and looked down 
upon his opponent. Silently the brown Colorado wound its 
tortuous way along the bottom of sheer walls 1500 feet deep. 
His first task was to divert it through giant side tunnels around 
the dam site, so as to clear the ground for his army of men and 
machines. Then the canyon bottom must be excavated over 100 
feet down to bedrock, a monolithic block of concrete raised 727 
feet between the walls, and the biggest power tunnels and 
stations in the world constructed all within seven years' time. 
According to contract, Six Companies would have to forfeit 
$3000 for every day its work continued beyond the deadline of 
April n, 1938. The government was making every effort to 
see that the long years of delay by debate were not matched by 
delay in construction while the Colorado increased its threat to 

Imperial Valley. It now remained for Frank Crowe to discover 
how the sullen river would react to this invasion by man. 

The Interior Department was already completing the first 
step in the conquest. From a point near Las Vegas, Nevada, a 
thirty-one-mile branch of the Union Pacific Railroad was built 
into the depths of Black Canyon and promptly began hauling 
material and equipment across the desert for the monumental 
work ahead. One other requisite had already been supplied by 
Interior Secretary Wilbur, who a few months before had sent 
official notification to Mead of the Reclamation Bureau: "The 
dam which is to be built in the Colorado River at Black Canyon 
is to be called Hoover Dam." 

As for the army of several thousand men needed to fight the 
river, Frank Crowe found it at hand before he ever saw the 
Colorado. All the way from Las Vegas to the dam site the desert 
road was dotted with temporary shanties. Here were hundreds of 
indigent families, caught in America's worst depression, who had 
come from every corner of the Union in the desperate hope of 
finding work at Boulder. Upstream from Black Canyon there 
sprang a "Ragtown" of flimsy shelters, housing some thousand 
people without means of subsistence. By the time Crowe arrived 
many families were near the brink of starvation. 

The situation forced Six Companies to begin large-scale 
operations immediately. After a hurried conference with en- 
gineers Crowe decided to hire as many men as possible by work- 
ing three shifts a day, round the clock. Skilled crews were rushed 
from other Western construction jobs to hasten the assault on 
Black Canyon. Roads were blasted along mountainsides, tele- 
phone and power lines installed, work houses and mess halls 
erected. In the barren desert a few miles away Six Companies 
built Boulder City, complete with schools, hospitals, lawn sprin- 
klers, and air conditioning everything possible to make life 
bearable in the merciless heat of Nevada summers. By the end of 
the year Frank Crowe had over 2700 men on the pay roll, and 
the ugly crisis was over. Six Companies had met its first emer- 
gency and now was ready to tackle the river itself. 

Into the shadows of Black Canyon in early May went Frank 
Crowe with his men, trucks, and drilling machines. On Crowe's 
drawing boards were two giant diversion tunnels for each side 


of the canyon all of them to be fifty feet in diameter after the 
concrete linings were laid. Only one other bore in the world the 
Rove Tunnel in France had a greater diameter. 

First blast on the tunnels was fired May 12, 1931. From that 
time on the canyon was alive with metal-hatted men and their 
jackhammers, with dust-raising trucks hustling along mountain 
roads, with loads of materials swinging out between the giant 
walls on cables suspended across the chasm. Out of the sides of 
Black Canyon came incessant rumblings as the tunnel faces 
gave way to blasts of dynamite. Then the "muck" would be 
scooped up by monster power shovels working inside the tunnels, 
and dumped into trucks for disposal. 

Crowe and his engineers knew there was no time for delay; 
they planned to make the big diversion of the Colorado in the 
fall of 1932 at a time when the river would be in low stage, 
with little chance of flash floods from the Virgin or Little Colo- 
rado tributaries. If the tunnels were not driven and lined by that 
time, Six Companies would have to wait another year; there 
was no grappling with the mighty Colorado except in its most 
docile moment. 

As the yawning tunnels were driven farther into the sides of 
Black Canyon, new methods and machines were contrived to 
hasten the work. The hugeness of the bore made the drilling of 
the "shot" holes the most tedious part of the job. But one of 
Crowe's engineers devised a mammoth framework of platforms 
mounted on a truck, from which up to thirty drillers could attack 
the face simultaneously. By the use of these "jumbos," as they 
were soon called, Crowe's tunnelers drove with renewed speed 
through the sides of Black Canyon. Before the first tube was holed 
through in January 1932 some of the crews were completing 
three rounds of drilling, firing, and mucking every twenty-four 
hours, advancing the work as much as forty-five feet a day. Frank 
Crowe calculated that they would all be finished and lined with 
time to spare before the deadline at the end of the year. 

But the Colorado could not help noticing this persistent 
human activity along its banks, and suspecting the plot being laid 
to tame it. Early in February 1932 it reared in anger. Over the 
mountain country to the north a heavy rain fell, melting winter 
snows and sending a gathering flood down the arms of the 


Virgin. On the afternoon of February 9 it hurtled into Black 
Canyon without warning. 

Instantly Crowe's hive of activity was turned into pan- 
demonium. Tunnel work was dropped and crews were rushed to 
the surface to fight the river. While the water rose foot by foot 
men worked feverishly, raising sandbag embankments to protect 
the tunnel openings. By midnight the trestle bridge supplying the 
works on the Arizona side was staggering under the furious 
battering of torrent and debris. Machine shops and power en- 
gines were flooded, but Crowe's battlers kept the river out of the 
tunnels. When the Colorado began to subside next morning it 
had taken out the bridge and wrecked some equipment, but 
left Six Companies holding the field. 

Then the Colorado tried a flank attack. The same storm that 
had flooded the Virgin passed over Arizona and filled the Little 
Colorado two hundred miles to the east. This time Crowe's army 
received the alarm hours in advance. But there was still no time 
to rebuild the trestle bridge swept out by the first flood, and the 
Arizona tunnels were almost isolated from help. Men were sent 
hurrying across a small suspension bridge to retrieve vital equip- 
ment and fortify the dikes in front of the tunnel mouths. 

They were still piling sandbags on February 12 when the 
Colorado's second flood came rampaging into Black Canyon, 
50,000 second-feet strong. Like an enraged lion, it swept out 
the Arizona banks and poured headlong into the tunnels. Before 
this onslaught Crowe's men were powerless to do anything but 
protect the Nevada tunnels. 

Next day the Colorado's fury was spent. The waters receded 
and the river passed on, but in the bottoms of the Arizona tunnels 
the crews found everything a dripping confusion. Intricate elec- 
trical equipment was standing in brown liquid that was "too thin 
to shovel and too thick to pump." Wearily they turned to the 
task of cleaning out the great dungeons and restoring the ma- 
chinery. Meanwhile other crews rebuilt the trestle bridge, and 
within a few days trucks were rumbling over it once more with 
new rock blasted from the diversion tunnels. 

A month later the crews began lining the tunnels with con- 
crete. Filling the bottom sections was easy enough, but for the 
sides and top they rolled giant steel frameworks like modern 


Trojan horses into the depths of the tunnels for use as concrete 
forms. At the same time the openings were fortified against the 
long summer flood of the Colorado ; if its water swirled in on this 
fresh concrete, weeks of tedious work might be undone in an 
instant. Fortunately 1932 was a dry year, and the river's flow 
never reached higher than 100,000 second-feet. 

Late in August, when the water level was on its way downward 
and the engineers thought the worst was past, the Colorado 
made its last desperate stand. On the thirty-first it unexpectedly 
raised a flash flood of 60,000 second-feet and caught the Black 
Canyon crews off guard. Before they could stop it water pene- 
trated the barriers, flooded the tunnel pumps, shorted out electric 
motors, and poured over considerable fresh concrete. Then the 
diabolical river subsided, leaving the hard-bitten Six Companies 
workmen a week's work of cleanup and more recementing. 

By October the lining of the Arizona tunnels was nearly 
finished, and Frank Crowe was ready to turn the river. Through 
hard driving and the use of labor-saving machines, his men had 
met the schedule for the great diversion in the fall of 1932. All 
Frank Crowe had to do was to lift the Colorado River ten feet in 
its channel, blow out the barriers in front of the tunnel mouths, 
and then heave the river into them. The only way to do this was 
to use the trick Harry Cory had perfected in the battle for 
Imperial Valley twenty-six years before. At the trestle bridge 
just downstream from the openings they must dump rock faster 
than the river could wash it away. 

On the evening of November 1 2, Frank Crowe had a hundred 
loaded dump trucks lined up along the canyon road with engines 
idling. In the canyon bottom the Colorado swirled silently 
through the pilings of the trestle bridge, apparently unaware that 
this was to be its final battle. At a signal the trucks swung into 
gear and rumbled toward the bridge. One after another they 
dumped their rock into the water and roared back for reloads. 
For fifteen hours they bombarded the river at the rate of a truck- 
load every fifteen seconds. All night long the Colorado rose 
steadily, pouring through the bridge pilings and over the top of 
the mounting wall of rocks. By eleven- thirty next morning it had 
been lifted ten feet and was cascading down the lower side of 
the barrier. At the right moment a blast of dynamite ripped open 

the levee in front of the outside Arizona tunnel, leaving a beckon- 
ing path for the beleaguered river. From the mouth of the bore 
came a jubilant shout: 

"She's taking it, boys, she's taking it!" 

Into the smooth round maw of the tunnel flowed the docile 
Colorado. A few hours later it was also pouring into the compan- 
ion tunnel on the Arizona side. After laboring eighteen months 
to set a trap for the wary river, Crowe had diverted its entire 
flow out of the canyon in a single day's battle. 

A third of a mile downstream another barrier was thrown 
across the canyon, just above the point where the tunnels emptied 
the Colorado back into its channel. The corridor between was 
then pumped dry and the great working space for the con- 
struction of Hoover Dam was laid bare for the first time in the 
river's geologic history. 

"Now all we gotta do," exclaimed one of the water boys, "is 
go down to bedrock and back." 

Yet, where the tempestuous Colorado was concerned, any- 
thing could happen as long as these slim rock barriers were all that 
stood between it and the power-shovel crews who promptly began 
digging their way down to bedrock. If the first flash floods of the 
winter did not overturn those obstacles the Colorado's spring 
rise would surely do so. 

Six Companies was well aware that dams were necessary to 
build dams. Two staunch earth-fill cofferdams, with great sloping 
sides like pyramids, were built to wall off the site at each end. 
The upstream structure, ninety feet high, was finished in March 
1933 none too soon to ward off the spring rise of the river. By 
then the two diversion tubes on the Nevada side had been 
finished, and together the four tunnels were able to carry 200,000 
second-feet the highest recorded floods of the Colorado. Down 
at Needles, however, Santa Fe Railroad engineers had found 
water marks on the canyon walls indicating a past flood of some 
384,000 second-feet. If another such deluge came hurtling down 
on the infant works in Black Canyon, raw nature would turn one 
of man's greatest engineering efforts into catastrophe. 

Frank Crowe knew there was no room for delay in driving 
ahead on the dam itself. Six Companies was already over a year 
ahead of the Reclamation Bureau's timetable, but the unpre- 


dictable Colorado knew no schedules. Southward in the delta 
country it was still building up its bed at almost a foot a year, 
bringing closer the day when it would spill over into Imperial 
Valley. Settlers and engineers alike knew they could never stop 
another break like that of 1906. Their hopes rested on the de- 
termined progress of Frank Crowe's legions in the depths of Black 

Through the winter and spring of 1933 his shovel and dynamite 
crews were stripping away more than a hundred feet of silt and 
debris from the bed of the channel. Meanwhile he was making 
preparations for the biggest concrete-pouring job the world had 
ever seen bigger than the aggregate of dams built under the 
Reclamation Service since its inception. Two giant cement plants 
were assembled in the canyon; one of them, perched high on the 
Nevada side of the gorge, was the largest in the world. From 
these two plants railroad cars would carry mammoth buckets, 
each holding sixteen tons of concrete mix, down to the dam site. 
Huge sky hooks from overhead cableways would then snatch them 
up and swing them out over the canyon to be poured. 

Greatest single problem would be the cooling and setting of the 
dam's 5,000,000 tons of concrete. Enormous temperatures would 
be created deep inside it, and unless special devices were used it 
would take some hundred and twenty-five years to cool. In the 
process it would be hopelessly cracked by the shifting expansions 
and contractions. Therefore the dam would be built with over 
two hundred individual forms, each big enough for an ordinary 
house, which would be advanced upward as the dam progressed. 
Supplementing these would be a network of water pipes, and a 
maze of shafts and corridors through which every corner of the 
structure could be inspected by Six Companies engineers. There 
was to be no room for chance in a dam backing up a lake a 
hundred and twenty-five miles long. 

By June 1933 the bedrock floor of the canyon had been laid 
bare, and on the sixth the first form was in place. Out of the 
sky came the first bucketful of concrete. Over two years had been 
spent in preparing Black Canyon for this epochal event begin- 
ning of construction on the dam itself. 

Month after month that skyward traffic of buckets continued 
from five separate cableways. An operator situated high on the 

cliff above would lower a bucket into the chasm like a spider on 
the end of its thread. Directed by signals from below, he would 
place it over the designated form and then trip the cable on the 
bucket gate. Out of the bottom dropped sixteen tons of lavalike 
mix, to be attacked by a concreting gang and tamped with shovels 
and the stomping of rubber boots. As the dam reared upward 
bucket operator and form crews became a well-co-ordinated team ; 
by March 1934 ten times as much concrete was being laid as in 
the first month of construction. Buckets were soaring through 
the air at a rate of nearly one a minute, hour after hour. 

With this kind of furious activity in the narrow breadth of 
Black Canyon, accidents were inevitable. More than once a bucket 
cable snapped, sending men scurrying out of the way as wet 
concrete, bucket and all, hurtled downward and crashed into the 
checkered surface of the dam. One evening early in 1 934 a bucket 
of mix was swinging into place above a concreting gang when 
the line broke. The steel behemoth plummeted across the form 
below, taking two men with it. Next moment it was clattering 
across the smooth face of the mammoth dam. Then it bounced 
off the cliff and flung itself and its cement cargo into the bottom 
of the canyon. 

In a minute men were scurrying over the great structure, look- 
ing for the victims. One was found dead on a catwalk below the 
top. Parties were searching for the other at the foot of the dam 
when a light was noticed halfway up its bold front. The second 
man was found on another catwalk, bruised and covered with 
wet concrete, but otherwise very much alive. He had struck a 
match to find out where he was. 

Ordinarily, however, the relentless campaign in Black Canyon 
went on with smooth precision. By March 23, 1935, the last 
bucketful of mix had been poured and all forms were standing at 
crest level, 727 feet above bedrock. Then pure cement mixture 
was forced into the remaining spaces between the forms, and in 
every other crevice left open in the construction work. Frank 
Crowe and an army of 4000 metal-hatted men had finished 
Hoover Dam four years almost to the day after they had first 
descended into Black Canyon. 

At the same time they had also completed the final conquest of 
the river. The two inner diversion tunnels had already been 


plugged with concrete, and a set of gate valves placed in the 
outer tunnel on the Nevada side to give a controlled flow for 
irrigation downstream. Then on February I, 1935, a i5OO-ton 
steel gate was lowered over the mouth of the outer Arizona tun- 
nel. The waters that had rushed into the earth a moment before 
now lapped peacefully against the bulkhead. There was nothing 
for the river to do but rise against Hoover Dam. 

This was the end of the Colorado's freedom; in low water or 
flood, it was now bridled to man's purposes. From that February 
I two years ahead of schedule Imperial farmers ceased to have 
the river on their backs. No more would it threaten their valley 
with inundation at every summer flood; they could now leave their 
levees without strengthening them each year against a rising river 
bed, for the irrigating water that now passed below Boulder Dam 
was regulated and almost clear of silt. Until now total disaster had 
been relentlessly approaching ; possibly the two years by which Six 
Companies had beaten its schedule had been the crucial two for 
Imperial Valley. 

On September 30, 1935, Black Canyon played host to some 
12,000 spectators when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, flanked 
by cabinet members and governors of six states, officially dedi- 
cated the dam. Most of the stalwarts who had fought for years to 
get it authorized were there all except Arthur Powell Davis, 
former chief of the Reclamation Bureau, who had first proposed 
the project in 1903 and had pressed its adoption for twenty-five 
years. He had died in August 1933, two years before this cli- 
matic event which his efforts had largely produced. 

Even at the time of its dedication the dam had formed a reser- 
voir of nearly 4,000,000 acre-feet, enough to make it one of the 
largest artificial lakes in the world. But this was merely a begin- 
ning. Eventually it would reach the size of 30,000,000 acre-feet 
not only the biggest man-made body in existence but one large 
enough to make permanent changes in the climate of its im- 
mediate region in the Southwest and to cause local earthquakes 
by its weight. Early in 1936 it was named Mead Lake, after the 
Reclamation commissioner who had overseen its creation through 
Hoover Dam. 

To the cities of the Southern California coast the Boulder 
Canyon Project now yielded a seemingly unending supply of 


hydroelectric power. From the huge generating plants at the 
foot of Hoover Dam a brigade of giant steel towers stalks three 
hundred miles over desert and mountains to bring the electric 
energy that has given Los Angeles and its neighbors their recent 
industrial growth. 

One other benefit the Southern California cities were to 
receive from the Colorado 1,000,000 acre-feet of municipal 
water. Toward this goal they were already driving in a gigantic 
project of their own. Los Angeles and eleven other cities, grouped 
together since 1928 in a Metropolitan Water District, were build- 
ing a 24O-mile ditch across the California desert. 

Surveys of the route had been finished before Hoover Dam 
was started, but one obstacle after another had delayed construc- 
tion. Of first consideration was the tangled question of water 
rights. A definite amount had been allotted to the lower basin in 
a compact to which Arizona had not agreed, and this contra- 
dictory situation made a definition of rights necessary before the 
cities could even begin to finance their project. Government con- 
tracts for delivery of water provided the answer, but this in turn 
necessitated an agreement among all water interests on a division 
of California's share. 

Negotiators from Imperial and other agricultural districts there- 
upon sat down with others representing municipal users, and 
after months of wrangling turned out the Seven Party Agreement 
of August 1 8, 1931. It allowed priorities of use for existing water 
rights totaling 5,362,000 acre-feet a year just under the U. S. 
Interior Department's figure on the amount to which California 
had restricted herself in her Limitation Act. On this basis govern- 
ment water contracts were immediately executed. Arizona has 
since disputed their validity, but California points out that they 
grew out of a proposal being pressed in negotiations at that time 
by Arizona herself. 

At any rate the contracts were made, and on the strength of them 
the Metropolitan Water District launched into a $220,000,000 
investment to bring Colorado River water to city faucets. The 
bond election to raise this sum was set for September 29, and the 
Southland swung into one of its rousing water campaigns. Nearly 
every newspaper fought for the bonds, while city water depart- 
ments published pamphlets and mailed them to customers with 


their bills. Prominent leaders formed themselves into a Citizens 
Colorado River Committee which took active charge of the 
campaign. By early September it was turning out its own news- 
paper, Water News; at the same time service clubs were provided 
with speakers, radio listeners were besieged with water programs, 
audiences were shown sound movies entitled Thirst, and even 
auto windshields blossomed with aqueduct stickers. On the morn- 
ing before election housewives all over the metropolitan area 
found their milk bottles decorated with a printed reminder: 
"One more day until September 29, 1931." Southern Cali- 
fornians, already made water-conscious by their environment, 
were convinced. They went to the polls on the twenty-ninth and 
voted in the $220,000,000 bond issue by a ratio of five to one. 

Legal obstacles and the depressed financial conditions blocked 
sale of the bonds for over a year and a half. But late in January 
1933 the eager Metropolitan District engineers were able to break 
ground. A reservoir site had already been chosen just above 
Parker, Arizona, a hundred and fifty-five miles south of Hoover 
Dam. From here the conduit would strike westward across some 
of the wildest country in the arid Southwest. All of the experience 
of the Los Angeles Water Department in building the Owens 
Valley aqueduct would now come into play. But whereas Mul- 
holland's army had gone into the desert without modern re- 
frigeration or gasoline trucks, this second generation of aqueduct 
makers would be armed with the latest advances in engineering. 

While the Colorado builders were no pioneers, they were to 
fight under their own disadvantages. No railroad traversed the 
greater part of their route; they would have to start from the 
empty desert in building supply roads, telephone and power lines, 
and in developing a water supply for the work itself. And this was 
no gravity conduit, sloping by careful gradients from source to 
city. Aqueduct water would have to be pumped out of the Colo- 
rado canyon, then over intervening mountain ranges to the 
coastal plain a total rise of some 1600 feet. Here were problems 
unknown on Mulholland's Owens River ditch. While the two 
aqueducts were almost exactly the same in distance over two 
hundred and forty miles from river to distributing reservoir the 
Colorado conduit would cost nearly ten times more than its noted 


Mulholland's modern counterpart was staunch, white-haired 
Frank Weymouth, former chief engineer of the Reclamation 
Bureau, whose expert testimony had helped steer the Boulder 
Canyon Act through congressional committees. Among his 
triumphs in twenty-two years of government service was the giant 
Arrowrock Dam of southern Idaho, highest in the world until 
Hoover Dam was built. Since 1929, Weymouth had been chief 
engineer for the Metropolitan Water District; at the age of 
fifty-eight he was now embarking on the crowning achievement of 
his career the biggest municipal aqueduct on the face of the 

Geography necessarily divided the task before him into two 
distinct sections. The first extended from the Colorado a hundred 
and twenty-five miles uphill to Hayfield Reservoir, the halfway 
point east of Coachella Valley. Through this rugged desert 
country the aqueduct wound its way in alternating tunnels, 
siphons, and open canals, and it was here that all the pumping 
stations were located. But from Hayfield pump lift westward the 
water would run downhill at a slope of three and a half feet to 
the mile, through an entirely closed conduit of tunnels, siphons, 
and concrete pipe. Its 11 7-mile course paralleled Coachella 
Valley, headed into San Gorgonio Pass, swung below Banning 
through the San Jacinto Tunnel, and ended finally at Lake 
Mathews, south of Riverside. From here a distributing system 
would carry water to the cities of the Metropolitan District as far 
as Santa Monica on the coast, nearly four hundred miles from 
the Colorado. 

Early in 1933 a ceremony for the opening of construction was 
held at Banning, and standing at Weymouth's side was another 
veteran engineer who watched the proceedings with satisfaction. 
At length old Bill Mulholland was called upon to speak. The 
seventy-seven-year-old patriarch shuffled forward, hands in 
pockets, and immediately gave the occasion an informal spirit. 

"Well," he began, "anything I might say would be pretty old 
stuff. I've tramped these hills since '77 ... and I'm getting 
along. I am glad to be of service to you and to this community 
now and forever!" 

It was to be his last public statement. Two years later, while 
aqueduct work was in full progress, Mulholland's robust health 


faltered. During his illness the old man fought valiantly for life, 
telling those at his bedside, "The Irish never give up." But on 
July 22, 1935, Bill Mulholland succumbed and all of Los 
Angeles joined in mourning. The city's flags were flown at half- 
mast, while every newspaper carried stirring eulogies on the 
engineer whose water adventures had laid a foundation for Los 
Angeles. During his funeral, which was attended by thousands, 
Frank Weymouth ordered work stopped all along the Colorado 
aqueduct for one minute of silence. Southern California was 
paying final tribute to the man who had fulfilled his own 
prophecy: "Whoever brings the water will bring the people." 

By January 25, 1933, Frank Weymouth's crews had broken ground 
on the first of the aqueduct's forty-two tunnels, which made up a 
third of the entire route. On their construction, and especially on 
the thirteen-mile bore under Mount San Jacinto in the Coast 
Range, depended the estimated building time of six years for the 
whole aqueduct. Over half of them were driven by contracting 
firms, while district forces attacked the forty miles of almost con- 
tinuous tunnels where the conduit paralleled Coachella Valley 
along the slope of the San Bernardino Mountains. 

Experience gained in the construction of the Hoover Dam 
diversion tunnels was now available to push this monumental 
work. Soon discarded was the old "heading-and-bench" method, 
whereby the upper part of a tunnel was excavated a few hundred 
feet ahead of the lower, and the new "full face" system was 
substituted. Jumbo carriages mounting up to eleven power drills 
assaulted the heading from ceiling to floor, while hard-hatted 
crewmen drove the powder holes. Then they were backed out of 
range while the dynamite was tamped and blasted. Powerful 
blowers at the tunnel mouths promptly sucked out the noxious 
gases of the explosion, turned in fresh air, and allowed the muck- 
ing crews to take over with their excavating machines and clear 
the loosened rock for the next advance. By this quick-moving 
system the tunnel crews drove forward over seven feet with 
every "round," on an average of twenty-one feet a day. 

By the fall of 1934 more contracting firms were invading the 
desolate country east of Hayfield Reservoir to carve sixty-three 
miles of open canal across the desert sands. It was a job for giant 


mechanical machines. Along each canal section came chugging 
bulldozers to break ground and prepare the way. Then huge 
dragline cranes attacked the route and did the main work of 
excavation. To complete the shape of the fifty-five-foot-wide 
ditch, one construction company invented the "canal trimmer" 
a mammoth framework of moving machinery shaped to fit the 
outline of the canal and cut it to precise shape. Drawn along 
tracks on each bank, it crept forward at the rate of a foot a 
minute like some prehistoric behemoth crawling over the face 
of the Colorado Desert. Behind it, after reinforcing rods were 
fastened in place, came another monster obviously a relative of 
the first. It was a "canal paver," which spread the concrete lining 
and tamped it into place in a single operation. Nowhere had 
such weird machines been used before, and nowhere, because of 
their size, could they be used again. 

Within a year, as new sections were opened, men and machines 
swarmed over a hundred miles of desert west of the Colorado. 
A dozen temporary towns, complete with air-conditioned bar- 
racks and ice plants, had been built along the route to shelter 
an army which had grown to nearly 11,000 by the peak year of 
1936. In the midst of depression they were braving merciless 
summer heat in the most forbidding part of the Southwestern 
desert to hold jobs on the aqueduct. By early 1936, under the 
energetic direction of Frank Weymouth, the builders were half- 
way through their job of delivering Colorado water to the thirsty 
cities of Southern California. 

But over on the river itself trouble had suddenly arisen at the 
canal's starting point a few miles north of Parker. Reclamation 
Bureau men had arrived at the dam site early in 1934 to begin 
diamond drilling and determine the depth of bedrock. There- 
upon the state of Arizona rallied her forces for another round. 
As long as her own water rights in the Colorado were still unde- 
termined she would not stand by while California began build- 
ing a dam to divert her water especially as that dam would be 
partially founded on Arizona soil. 

Implacable old George W. P. Hunt was no longer Arizona's 
governor, but in his place now sat a man of equal showmanship 
and nerve Governor B. B. Moeur. He lost no time in notifying 


the California governor that Arizona would oppose any activity 
on her own side of the river. 

California, the Metropolitan Water District, and the Reclama- 
tion Bureau ignored the warning. Late in February 1934 their 
forces at the Parker site began drilling operations from barges in 
midstream. In order to hold them in place they swung a heavy 
cable across the Colorado and anchored it on the Arizona side. 

When Governor Moeur heard about the cables he moved 
swiftly in the best Arizona tradition. On March 3, 1934, a squad 
of militia was ordered to the dam site with instructions to "pro- 
tect the rights of the State and report at once any encroachment 
on the Arizona side of the river." 

Immediately the Southwest prepared for some frontier excite- 
ment. Phoenix was in a flurry as its troops gathered equipment, 
checked their ammunition, and prepared to strike out for "the 
front." The Los Angeles Times rushed a "war correspondent" to 
Parker, where he joined the natives in waiting for the arrival of 
the Arizona guard; he passed the time by writing with tongue in 
cheek of the "impending movement of State troops into this 
theater of war to protect the State of Arizona from invasion by 
all or part of the State of California. . . ." 

It was agreed by the old-timers that Governor Moeur would 
have to send a squad of mountain goats if there was to be any 
approach to the dam by land. Only a dim and ancient wagon 
road, crossing sharp ravines and fording the Bill Williams River 
a dozen times, approached the spot on the Arizona side of the 
Colorado. An oiled supply road served it in California, but this 
was ruled out as enemy territory. Meanwhile the federal work- 
men continued to drill in the bed of the Colorado as though 
nothing was amiss. The Metropolitan Water District's engineer 
in charge was simply instructed to "inform anyone who might 
want to remove the cables that we are not through with them." 

On the afternoon of March 5 the spearhead of the Arizona 
forces descended on Parker in a whirl of dust after the long trip 
from Phoenix. While the town population gathered, two men 
emerged from the dust-caked station wagon. One was the gover- 
nor's secretary; the other was Major F. I. Pomeroy of the I58th 
Infantry Regiment, Arizona National Guard. Together they 
made cautious inquiries, reconnoitered the terrain, and decided 


that the old-timers were right. The only way to reach the scene 
of operations several miles up the river was by water. 

At this point appeared Nellie and Joe Bush, leading citizens 
of Parker. Mrs. Bush was, in fact, a member of the Arizona legis- 
lature, and was proud to be of service in this crucial hour. From 
Parker to the town of Earp, on the California side, they had long 
operated a pair of ferryboats, the Julia B. and the Nellie T. These 
they placed at the instant disposal of the state of Arizona. 

Early next morning the long-heralded military advance began. 
The Julia B., flying the Arizona flag, left the Parker dock and 
chugged northward through the brown current. Some distance 
upstream Nellie and Joe picked up the two-man Arizona military 
force and pressed onward. The Times reporter, also on board, 
was quick to label the whole expedition with the magnificent title 
of "Arizona Navy." The appellation was a happy stroke of genius ; 
its incongruity immediately captured the nation's sense of humor. 
Across the country uproarious headlines described the antics of 
the Arizona Navy. A group of enthusiastic Arizonans wired their 
representative in Congress, urging that the battleship Arizona be 
sent at once to the scene of action at Parker. 

Up the river stalked the staunch little craft, doing its best to 
fulfill the title. Drawing eighteen inches of water, it sported an 
engine room and pilothouse aft, with a flat forward deck big 
enough for a single auto. Manning the wheel on the voyage was 
officer Nellie; Joe Bush acted as admiral. Through the willow- 
lined canyon walls it plowed, while isolated settlers stood on the 
banks gazing in wonderment at this strange invasion. 

Early in the afternoon the brave craft reached the dam site. 
Water District men watched from their barges and, according to 
an eyewitness, were "somewhat embarrassed as to proper naval 
procedure." Knowing that some kind of a salute was required 
"when a foreign vessel comes into port carrying dignitaries," they 
are said to have produced a shotgun and sounded off properly. 
When the Julia B. finally reached the bank on the Arizona side 
the Calif ornians waved their hats and sent up a resounding chorus 
of halloos. 

Unruffled, Major Pomeroy busied himself inspecting the cables 
anchored on the Arizona shore. He then decided to inspect the 
mouth of the Bill Williams River as a possible camp site for his 


troops, but when the Julia B. turned to continue upstream, the 
low-hanging cables barred the way. Here, indeed, was a crisis. 
But seeing the distress of the Arizonans, the California engineer 
obligingly sent a small motorboat across the river. This time the 
embarrassment was Arizona's. While the Julia B. sulked dis- 
appointedly at her mooring, the California vessel carried the 
major upstream to complete his mission. It was a crowning stroke 
in the Arizona-California hostilities. 

That evening the proud Julia B. churned homeward, having 
fulfilled her destiny as flagship of the Arizona Navy. Next day 
she was back at the odious task of hauling autos back and forth 
from Parker to Earp, on the California shore. 

Major Pomeroy returned to Phoenix and three days later burst 
into the town of Parker again with his expeditionary force three 
vehicles and five soldiers. Shunning the ignominy of naval trans- 
portation, they struck determinedly across the Arizona desert next 
morning in a station wagon. By noon, after a backbreaking ride 
across the fordings of the Bill Williams, they reached the Colo- 
rado a half mile above the dam site. There the troops encamped 
to observe the movements of the enemy and "report any encroach- 
ment." Through the scorching heat of an Arizona summer they 
remained at their isolated outpost the vanguard of resistance 
for the sovereign state of Arizona. 

After nine months' time they suddenly sent an emergency re- 
port to Governor Moeur. Construction had begun on Parker Dam. 
Six Companies, the firm that had built Hoover Dam, had taken 
the contract and was now laying a trestle bridge across the river 
toward the Arizona shore. Survey parties had already set foot on 
Arizona soil. 

Governor Moeur acted immediately. On November 10, 1934, 
he declared martial law over the territory embracing the Arizona 
side of the Parker site. The National Guard was ordered to take 
possession of the area, eject trespassers, prevent construction of 
the bridge, and "repel the threatened invasion of the sovereignty 
and territory of the State of Arizona. . . ." To Secretary of the 
Interior Harold Ickes he sent a message explaining his stand. To 
the press he summed up Arizona's determination with a fiery 
comment : 


"We may get licked in the affair, but we will go down fight- 

Over on the Colorado the Metropolitan Water District was 
equally adamant. Six Companies kept operating its pile driver 
as usual, pounding closer to the Arizona side. The workmen them- 
selves were resolved to push ahead, even if it meant a clash. They 
had sought this work too long in the midst of a national depres- 
sion to give it up now without a struggle. The Reclamation 
Bureau engineer backed up their defiance. 

"My survey parties," he announced solemnly, "will cross the 
river tomorrow and go on with work as usual." 

Downstream at Parker the citizens came alive in anticipation 
of hostilities. Miners, cowboys, and even Indians came to town 
from the surrounding country to witness the "big showdown." 
Newspaper correspondents, photographers, and newsreel camera- 
men swarmed into Parker, ready to record another sortie of the 
Arizona Navy for an expectant nation. Joe Bush ordered the 
Julia B. recommissioned for another advance up the Colorado. 

"We're ready to move troops up the river any day," he an- 
nounced dramatically. Scouts sent upstream, however, returned 
to report that the water level during the Colorado's fall stage was 
too low to float the Arizona Navy. Joe Bush was undismayed. 
"She'll go anywhere," he proudly insisted. 

"When are you going to shove off?" somebody asked him. 

"Oh," he countered slyly, "you don't think we're giving out 
military information, do you?" 

On November 12 the Six Companies pile driver at the dam 
site had almost reached the Arizona bank; plans were made to 
begin work on diversion tunnels on the Arizona side. Out of 
Phoenix on the same day rumbled a caravan of eighteen army 
trucks, carrying over a hundred armed troops, several machine- 
gunners, and a hospital unit. There seemed no way of preventing 
the long water feud between California and Arizona from end- 
ing in a pitched battle on the banks of the Colorado River. 

Next day Interior Secretary Harold Ickes stepped in. From 
the Denver headquarters of the Reclamation Bureau came orders 
to stop work on Parker Dam. Six Companies laid off its crews 
at noon and called some two hundred additional men off the 
projected job on the Arizona tunnels. To Governor Moeur came 


a telegram from Ickes that work had been shut down; until the 
question was settled, he declared, "there will be no invasion of 
Arizona's rights." 

State troops whirled into Parker in fighting trim that afternoon, 
only to be stopped from further advance by a message from the 
governor. Dejectedly they camped that night on the edge of 
town, while all of Parker gathered its frayed nerves. The drama 
of the Colorado water war had ended in ignoble frustration. 

Next day the whole militia was called back to Phoenix, includ- 
ing the six-man squad which had guarded Arizona soil for nine 
months near the dam site. Their departure was accompanied by 
the homeward trek of another squad of disappointed newspaper- 
men, who had waited for days with poised typewriters, newsreel 
cameras, and sound equipment for the battle that never hap- 
pened. As for the noble Julia B., she bravely carried on in her 
mundane task of ferrying autos across the Colorado, as though 
she had never been the flagship of the mighty Arizona Navy. 

The military phase of the Colorado controversy was over, and 
the fight was now transferred to the courts. In mid-January 1 935 
the government brought action in the Supreme Court to enjoin 
Arizona from interfering with construction of Parker Dam. After 
granting a temporary injunction, the Court threw out the case 
on April 29. Arizona was held to be within its rights in halting 
work, as the dam had no authorization from Congress. But Ari- 
zona's victory was short-lived ; four months later Congress specifi- 
cally authorized Parker Dam, and Arizona was left with nothing 
to do but permit the resumption of work in the Colorado channel. 
Six Companies immediately began boring the diversion tunnels 
on the Arizona side and by October 1936 had started excavating 
in the dry river bed to reach bedrock 240 feet below a distance 
that makes Parker the "deepest" dam in the world. 

Meanwhile Frank Weymouth's aqueduct builders were en- 
countering far greater obstacles than political obstruction. In the 
depths of San Jacinto Mountain the contractors who were driv- 
ing the aqueduct's longest tunnel were stalled by heavy flows of 
water. Like the famed Elizabeth Tunnel on the Owens River 
aqueduct, this thirteen-mile bore was being blocked by the very 
element it was being built to convey. 

When excavation had first started in May 1933 two shafts were 

sunk down to grade level one three miles in from the west portal, 
and the other less than two miles from the east portal. The eight- 
mile distance between these two points ran under the heart 
of Mount San Jacinto, second highest peak in Southern Cali- 
fornia. This was the crucial distance which determined the length 
of construction time not only for the tunnel itself but for the 
entire aqueduct. In less than a year the crews had reached grade 
level in the two shafts and were working on four headings deep 
in the interior of "old San Jack." 

But in July 1934 the miners in the eastbound heading of the 
west shaft suddenly struck a fault. From the sides and top of the 
tunnel a shower of water rushed in upon them. They were scarcely 
able to remove equipment before the tunnel was flooded com- 

The water had risen almost to the top of the 8oo-foot shaft 
before the contractors could install pumps to fight the overflow. 
They had nearly cleared the shaft when an accident occurred 
which disabled two of the three pumps and gave way to the 
flood once more. When the works were finally pumped out in 
November 1934 a third flood promptly filled them again. Finally 
the crews were able to resume work by the end of the year, but 
could still make little headway against a constant flow of water. 

By this time Frank Weymouth and his Water District engineers 
feared that delay in San Jacinto would hold up the entire aque- 
duct a result which would cause a high loss of interest payments 
on the bonds. Little more than two miles had been driven in over 
a year and a half a rate which would bring completion in nearly 
ten years instead of the estimated six. Early in 1935, Weymouth 
decided to cancel the contract and push the work directly. Metro- 
politan Water District engineers took over on February 12, and 
with a more powerful set of pumps and heavier excavating 
machines installed in each shaft, drove ahead three more miles 
in a year's time. 

Frank Weymouth knew, however, that even this pace could 
not make up for the time lost. In March 1936 he called his engi- 
neers together for a council of war. More than three years, he 
reminded them, had been consumed in driving only two miles 
in the key central section of the tunnel. Surface exploration indi- 
cated that several more water-laden faults lay ahead. Clearly a 


whole new strategy was needed for the assault on indomitable 
old San Jack. 

Out of that meeting was born a new line of attack. A mile- 
long shaft the "Lawrence Adit" was begun from a canyon 
paralleling the tunnel on the north, four miles from the town of 
Banning. Striking the central tunnel section roughly in the mid- 
dle, this new access would provide two more headings from 
which Weymouth's hardy miners could carry on the assault. The 
alignment of the tunnel itself was swung northward to meet the 
new shaft a device which added over a thousand feet of length 
but hastened the shaft connection. Weymouth calculated this 
entire stratagem would cut a year off the construction time. 

Through this and other expedients his tunnelers drove through 
the mountain at a still faster pace, righting off floods that some- 
times poured out over 15,000 gallons a minute at a single head- 
ing. By December 1937, when the mile-long Lawrence shaft 
reached the tunnel line, it was clear that the final three miles 
would be finished within the six-year limit. 

As the last barrier was pierced on November 19, 1938, the 
event was witnessed by hundreds of miners and a crowd of Metro- 
politan District officials. Even the nation itself shared their tri- 
umph, for a CBS microphone was on hand to record the final 
explosion which left an unbroken thirteen-mile hole through the 
heart of old San Jack. After the muckers cleared the heading they 
found the historic connection was exactly true for lateral align- 
ment and a tenth of an inch off for elevation. Frank Weymouth's 
team of surveyors, engineers, and drillers had not sacrificed ac- 
curacy in winning their battle against time. 

Within less than a year the concrete crews lined the tunnel, 
and the last link in the conduit was completed. Then the pon- 
derous machinery of the world's greatest domestic aqueduct 
shifted into motion. Power transmitted southward from Hoover 
Dam began lifting water from Parker Reservoir and over the 
mountains of the Colorado Desert. In November 1939 it was 
turned into the terminal reservoir, which was soon dedicated 
Lake Mathews, in honor of the Los Angeles water lawyer whose 
indefatigable efforts up till his death a few years before had 
largely made this aqueduct possible. 

Another year and a half was consumed in finishing the dis- 


tribution system to member cities of the Metropolitan Water 
District. On June 17, 1941, the first Colorado water was delivered 
to Pasadena, and in rapid succession to Santa Monica, Long 
Beach, and other cities. It was the welcome end of a long ordeal ; 
ten years had passed since these cities had first voted the aque- 
duct bonds, and eighteen years since Mulholland had journeyed 
to the Colorado to consider it as a source of municipal water. 
To those who had scoffed that the project was fantastic, Frank 
Weymouth and his hard-hatted army had written an imperish- 
able answer across four hundred miles of California desert. 

Colorado water came none too soon for the Southern Califor- 
nia community. The wet cycle of the late 19305 ended with the 
winter of 1941, and in the years that followed many cities would 
have found their reservoirs dropping dangerously low without the 
new supply. For Santa Monica, Long Beach, and several others 
it soon became a main source of drinking water. But Los Angeles, 
with its own gravity supply from Inyo and Mono counties, was 
slow to make use of pumped water from the Colorado. During 
the first full year of operations only 114,000 acre-feet came 
through the aqueduct just about one tenth of the ultimate 
capacity. In an effort to put the project on a paying basis, district 
officials encouraged new communities to join, and several, in- 
cluding Inglewood and Anaheim, were quick to accept. 

But other cities declined, believing their local supplies were 
enough, and thereupon made a desperate civic mistake. Today 
many of those same communities are trying to gain the member- 
ship they once shunned. The Metropolitan Water District, with 
its life line to the mighty Colorado, is the one stable source of 
water in Southern California; membership in this exclusive club 
means the difference between a prosperous future and tragic stag- 

As the giant projects of the Colorado unfolded during the early 
19305, the one that had fathered them all still remained to be 
launched. Out of Imperial Valley's project for the All-American 
Canal, conceived by her water seekers before World War I, had 
grown the whole Boulder Canyon Project. It was, as Phil Swing 
had put it, "the tail that wagged the dog." 

Like the Colorado Aqueduct, the canal was not begun until 


Hoover Dam was well advanced, because its diversion dam in 
the river could best be built after the parent structure had con- 
trolled the flow. Yet by 1933 the aqueduct project was under 
way, and the Ail-American Canal was still on the drawing boards. 

Phil Swing was then in Washington representing the Imperial 
Irrigation District after the end of his twelve-year congressional 
career. Neither he nor Imperial had forgotten the canal that was 
to free their water supply from Mexican control. As long as it 
remained unbuilt, Swing knew the nine-year battle he had waged 
in Congress was still unfinished. With his fighting spirit aroused, 
he invaded the Reclamation Bureau and found the cause of the 
delay. Although the Boulder Canyon Act had appropriated funds 
for its construction, the government was reluctant to begin work 
while other states were clamoring for irrigation expenditures. 

Phil Swing then went to Harold Ickes, the blustery head of 
the Interior Department. Imperial Valley, he told him, could 
not afford to have the canal postponed. Ickes took him to a wall 
map near his desk. 

"All these other states have water projects pending," he ex- 
plained. "You'll just have to wait." 

"I can't wait," replied Swing. 

If the Interior Department would not grant his plea he would 
find a higher authority. Swing secured a fifteen-minute appoint- 
ment with President Roosevelt and then with his usual showman- 
ship succeeded in gathering a number of Colorado basin congress- 
men to appear with him. The Californian even approached his 
old friend and enemy, Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona, appeal- 
ing to him on the ground that if Hoover Dam was finished with- 
out an All-American Canal there would be no way to prevent 
Mexico from irrigating more land by the increased low flow of 
the river. Swing had nudged Hayden in a vulnerable spot. The 
Mexican menace to Colorado water had long been a bugbear in 
Arizona, and Carl Hayden agreed to support the All-American 

On the afternoon of October 23, Phil Swing took his impressive 
troupe to the White House. Already on Roosevelt's desk were 
telegrams from John Garner of Texas and Ward Bannister of 
Colorado, urging the All-American Canal. Swing had set the stage 


After the introductions he launched into a ten-minute speech 
on the canal project, finishing almost out of breath. 

"Well, Mr. Swing," Roosevelt responded amiably, "you've 
made a good statement and you've brought a good crowd with 
you." Then with a sly smile, "When you've brought Senator Hay- 
den, I almost think you're right to begin with." 

The President concluded by asking the views of the others, 
and told Swing he would send word of his decision. The group 
had no sooner filed out than Roosevelt called Senator Hiram 
Johnson, who had jumped Republican traces to support him in 
the presidential campaign the year before. Here again Phil Swing 
had laid his groundwork. Forewarned of a possible call, Johnson 
gave stout approval of the All- American Canal. 

Next day Swing was in his Washington quarters when a Public 
Works Administration official telephoned. Would he come over 
and help to write up the resolution allotting $6,000,000 to begin 
the All- American Canal? 

"What resolution?" blurted out Swing. 

"You ought to know," returned the voice. "You put it through." 

"I'll be right over." 

That day Phil Swing was able to send a long-awaited telegram 
to the jubilant directors of the Imperial Irrigation District : "Glad 
advise canal approved and six million allotted start work." By a 
final application of his bulldog spirit and astute showmanship the 
veteran water fighter was making the tail do some wagging of its 

Surveys and contracts immediately followed, and by August 8, 
1934, three hundred Imperial settlers journeyed to the Colorado 
to watch the first excavation on the Ail-American Canal. While 
the crowd assembled on a nearby point under a blazing midsum- 
mer sun, a huge power shovel ambled into place on the east slope 
of Pilot Knob. Sitting at the levers was blocky Mark Rose. As the 
long-standing "pioneer" of the project, he had been given the 
honor of releasing the first bucketful of rock from the eighty-mile 
ditch. With his Imperial friends cheering him on, the doughty 
farmer raised the first scoopful of earth and dropped it into a 
waiting truck. So far as Mark Rose was concerned, this completed 
his twenty-two-year efforts for the All- American Canal; the rest 
of the work he left to the engineers. 


Straight through the barren border country went the giant 
machines, fulfilling on the ground a plan that had been on draft- 
ing tables for a generation. Within a few months the route was 
swarming with dragline cranes and power shovels and a sun- 
tanned army of two thousand men. By 1 935 they encountered the 
valley of the shifting sand hills, the barrier that had forced Rock- 
wood and Chaffey southward into Mexico with their original 
Imperial Canal. Through this forbidding land of sterile white 
sand dunes the modern builders met their greatest test. Opponents 
of the canal had scoffed that it could never be pierced; engineers 
had reported that even if the ditch was built it could not be kept 
clear of the relentless encroachment of moving sand. 

Against these walking hills the canal makers brought in an 
equally formidable weapon a mammoth dragline crane of 650 
tons. It was so huge that twenty boxcars were needed to carry 
its parts to the nearest Southern Pacific siding, and so heavy that 
no wheels could support it in those yielding sands. Instead it was 
fashioned with two mechanical "feet," each weighing twenty-one 
tons. Mounted eccentrically on an axle, they actually "walked" 
seven feet at a step. 

So against the walking hills was pitted a giant walking crane. 
Laboring round the clock, with floodlights attached to its booms 
by night, it scooped up seven tons of sand at a mouthful and built 
a great embankment against the shifting sand dunes. As fast as 
the hills were effectively stopped the canal itself was gouged out 
to precise form. Then the workmen applied oil or vegetation to 
the canal banks, to provide a more lasting control of the elusive 
sand. Thus the obstacle that had been publicized for years from 
Imperial Valley to Washington was wiped away by applied in- 
genuity in a few months' time. Whatever sand found its way into 
the ditch would be carried off by the irrigating water. 

By 1936 work had been started on Imperial Dam, a few miles 
above the Yuma diversion works on the Colorado River. Here 
the canal water would be impounded, then turned into a great 
"desilting" plant, the first such device on any irrigating works in 
the world. It included four settling basins from which fifty thou- 
sand tons of silt could be removed every day by mechanical plows 
and sent back into the river below the dam. No longer would 

Imperial farmers be harassed by water so muddy that it filled 
their irrigation ditches and clogged the furrows in their fields. 

After six years of steady construction the engineering phase 
was over. From the Colorado to Imperial Valley stretched an 
unlined canal, complete with flumes and siphons to carry the 
water through intervening canyons. On October 13, 1940, the 
first water was delivered to Imperial Irrigation District ; from that 
time on the quantity was increased as the last miles of the canal 
were finished. By March 1942 the valley had completely aban- 
doned its Mexican life line and was taking its entire supply 
through the Ail-American Canal. The project that had suffered 
innumerable delays over the previous thirty years had barely 
escaped another interruption in the coming of World War II. 

Less fortunate was the Coachella Valley branch of the canal, 
which was begun in 1938 from a point fourteen miles west of 
Pilot Knob. Its course first traversed the upper edge of the famed 
East Mesa, providing a final water supply for Mark Rose's rich 
farming acreage. Then it pushed on along the prehistoric shore 
line of Imperial Valley, passed the Salton Sea, and circled around 
the upper limits of Coachella Valley. Beginning in 1942, the work 
was interrupted for four years by the war while Coachella farm- 
ers found their water levels sinking to alarming depths, owing to 
an accompanying drought. But by the end of 1948 the iig-mile 
branch was driven into Coachella Valley, and in the following 
spring the first Colorado water began to run through furrows in 
the thirsty land. An empire of 18,000 people and some of the 
most famous date palms and grapefruit groves in the world were 
rescued by a project first conceived thirty-seven years before. 

Redoubtable old Mark Rose did not live to see the fulfillment 
of his dream, having died during the construction period of the 
19305. But Phil Swing and other crusaders who took up his fight 
were on hand and could take pride in the knowledge that, while 
the first was last among the giant Boulder projects, they had not 
rested until their entire program was completed. Imperial Valley, 
saved by Hoover Dam from threatened annihilation, had likewise 
been freed from the foreign control fastened on its life line for 
forty years. California had finished the monumental task, against 
the opposition of both man and nature, of taming and harnessing 
the mighty lower Colorado. 


13: California's Lost Battle 

The completion of the All- American Canal in 1941 set in motion 
a chain of events which ripped open the dormant Colorado con- 
troversy. Its first effect was to rearrange the entire irrigation pic- 
ture in the lower basin. No longer was Imperial Valley dependent 
on Mexico for its water supply. Instead the water users below the 
border found themselves at the physical mercy of the Americans. 
The old Imperial Canal south of the line had been abandoned, 
and the thirty-seven-year concession which had reserved half of 
its flow for Mexican farmers was now useless. Irrigators south 
of the line would have to maintain and operate the ditch them- 
selves a task which would cut deeply into their margin of earn- 

But most of all, Imperial Valley now virtually controlled the 
lower river with its All- American Canal. At its will enough Colo- 
rado water could be drawn off above the border to ruin every 
crop on the delta. Phil Swing had warned that this very device 
could be used if Mexico sought to benefit by Hoover Dam's regu- 
lation of the river. 

"While you could not turn all the surplus into Salton Sea," he 
had told fellow congressmen, "you could do that at intervals and 
over sufficient lengths of time to prevent the increase of addi- 
tional area ... in Mexico." 

There was, after all, not enough water in the river to allow 
American improvements to benefit Mexico. So far as the Colo- 
rado's natural flow was concerned, Lower California had reached 
the limit of its crop expansion before Hoover Dam was built. 
The whole low stage of the river had been appropriated by water 
users on both sides of the line, and any additional supply would 
have to come from reservoir storage. Geography, however, had 
been unkind to Mexico. There were no reservoir sites on the flat 
delta lands, and the only possible location for a Mexican dam lay 
in the twenty-mile stretch where the Colorado formed the border 
between Mexico and Arizona. Without United States permission 
Mexico could not count on more than 750,000 acre-feet a year 
out of the Colorado. 


Hoover Dam, of course, had changed this situation. Arizonans 
who had fought the Boulder project in Congress during the 
twenties had argued that the increased low flow caused by the 
dam would benefit Mexican irrigators. By helping them to use 
and claim more water, it would be condemning that much more 
American land to desert. 

In the end Arizona had won her point. An amendment by 
Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona had been inserted in the Boulder 
Canyon bill warning Mexico that water was being stored for use 
"exclusively within the United States." As soon as the Boulder 
Act took effect in 1929, moreover, this country moved to pin 
down Mexico's water use by treaty. Dr. Elwood Mead, chief of 
the Reclamation Bureau, had met with Mexican agents and 
offered 750,000 acre-feet the most that Mexico had been able 
to use in any one year. But the Mexicans demanded 3,600,000. 
The Mead offer was rejected and the negotiations collapsed. 
Mexico was counting on the increased low flow that would take 
place with construction of Hoover Dam. 

Using Phil Swing's method, the United States would still have 
been able to halt such added use if the All-American Canal had 
been finished at the same time as Hoover Dam. But its delay had 
justified every fear of the Arizonans. Out of the regulated flow 
of the Colorado, beginning with the completion of the dam in 
1935, Mexico built a bigger agricultural empire than ever before 
on the Colorado delta. 

Harry Chandler's Mexican holdings, however, were benefiting 
little from the Lower California boom. In 1938 the Mexican Gov- 
ernment expropriated some 287,000 acres of the property in- 
cluding practically all of the cultivated area and dealt the 
Chandler company a fatal blow. But there were other Mexican 
owners who were prospering by the increased water supply, put- 
ting more land under irrigation every year in a race to develop 
as far as possible before the All-American Canal was completed 
to give the United States the advantage. 

By the late thirties American water users took sudden alarm. 
If Mexico secured a right to this increased use through a treaty 
with the United States their own established water rights would 
be endangered. In July 1938, American water interests from 
California to the Rocky Mountains met at Phoenix to organize 


against the Mexican menace. There they formed the Committee 
of Fourteen, with two members from each of the basin states, to 
advise the government on Colorado matters and especially on 
the Mexican question. When sitting with representatives of the 
Hoover Dam power contractors, it became the Committee of Six- 
teen. Without delay the organization asked the Secretary of State 
to notify Mexico that she could gain no right to water stored in 
the United States. The suggestion, however, was not followed. 

By 1941, Mexico was diverting nearly twice as much water 
out of the Colorado as she had been able to use from the unregu- 
lated river. But as the All-American Canal neared its completion 
that year, Mexico's period of grace was over. Knowing that Im- 
perial Valley would soon gain control over her water usage, 
Mexico indicated that she was ready for a treaty. The move was 
scarcely unexpected. Having built up her water claims as high 
as possible, Mexico was now willing to negotiate. 

Out of this situation was born a new struggle for the long- 
contested waters of the Colorado. By this time there were two 
divergent opinions on Mexico's rights: the American view that 
she should receive only the most she had been able to use before 
construction of Hoover Dam, and the Mexican idea that she 
should have all the use she had developed since then. The differ- 
ence between the two would put such a burden on the Colorado 
that American developments would be threatened. 

Of the seven Colorado states, California stood first in jeopardy. 
She had contracted to receive 5,362,000 acre-feet a year from 
Hoover Dam storage, but nearly 1,000,000 was classed as "sur- 
plus" outside the 7,500,000 apportioned to the lower basin by 
the Colorado Compact. According to that document, any Mexi- 
can draft would first be satisfied out of unapportioned surplus; 
California knew that Mexico's claim would consume so much 
of this that part of her own water contracts would be invaded. 
It simply meant that her Colorado Aqueduct and All-American 
Canal would never receive the capacities for which they had been 
built, and that she would have to turn elsewhere for a new water 
supply much sooner than expected. And beyond the Colorado the 
water holes were slim indeed. 

As soon as the U. S. State Department realized that Mexico 
would negotiate, the Colorado basin states were called upon for 


advice. In 1941 a subcommittee of the Committee of Fourteen 
recommended unanimously that Mexico be given no more water 
than she had been able to use before Hoover Dam 750,000 acre- 
feet a year. When this was discarded by the State Department as 
too low an offer, the committee made a token concession. In June 
1942 it unanimously approved a water delivery formula, giving 
Mexico 800,000 acre-feet during years of normal flow below 
Hoover Dam, and ranging more or less as that flow varied. 

Once again the State Department balked. Already larger con- 
siderations were crowding in to influence its approach to the 
Mexican question. For years previously the United States had 
also sought a treaty with Mexico on the waters of the lower Rio 
Grande, where the Colorado situation was reversed. Most of its 
flow rises in Mexican tributaries, but the rough terrain had made 
it impossible for Mexico to use any large amount. Texas, on the 
other hand, had rich citrus areas in the river's lower valley, and 
stood to be the beneficiary in any treaty negotiations. Thus Mex- 
ico had everything to offer on the Rio Grande and everything to 
ask on the Colorado. 

The implications in this picture were not ignored by Mexican 
officials. Years before, they had made it plain that they would 
not negotiate on the Rio Grande without also considering the 
Colorado. So it was that the International Boundary Commis- 
sion, which handled the negotiations, took up both rivers when 
serious talks began at El Paso in 1943. Whatever advantage the 
United States had as the contributor of Colorado water was 
neutralized by simultaneous discussion of the Rio Grande. 

Once the Mexican-American talks had started, the pressures 
of international diplomacy took hold. For years President Roose- 
velt, through Secretary of State Cordell Hull, had cultivated a 
long-needed good-neighbor policy toward Latin America. Mili- 
tary necessity during World War II had made American prestige 
below the border even more imperative. By the time the Mexican 
treaty negotiation was well advanced, the State Department be- 
lieved it was being regarded in Latin America as a crucial test 
of United States sincerity in its good-will program. Being the 
"underdog" nation, Mexico could not be dealt a hard bargain 
without jeopardizing years of careful American diplomacy. 

By early 1943 the American negotiators had given up any at- 
tempt to press the Committee of Fourteen's formula of 800,000 


acre-feet, or any plan based on Mexico's use before Hoover Dam. 
Instead it began thinking in terms of her water usage built up 
since that time. In the spring of 1943 the government called an- 
other conference of the committee, meeting with its members in 
mid-April at Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

From California came a formidable delegation of experts a 
second generation of water fighters in the tradition of Billy 
Mathews and Mark Rose. Chief among them was lean, hard- 
bitten Arvin Shaw, assistant attorney general of California, who 
brought with him more than twenty years of experience in West- 
ern water law. Suave in manner but unrelenting in debate, Shaw 
had a dramatic way of speaking that was alternately deliberate 
and explosive. With them also was another veteran of the Boulder 
Canyon fight redoubtable Phil Swing, now chief counsel for the 
San Diego County Water Authority. Together they were resolved 
to hold Mexico's allotment to her pre-Hoover Dam use. 

They were not prepared, however, for the awakening in store 
for them at Santa Fe. As the conference opened in the swank 
La Fonda Hotel a government negotiator presented a proposed 
treaty which amounted to a guarantee of 1,500,000 acre-feet to 
Mexico double her usage before Hoover Dam. Immediately the 
Calif ornians launched a volley of questions, only to find them- 
selves the lone objectors among the seven state delegations. Finally 
Phil Swing demanded whether the federal officials intended to 
give away part of the water in California's contracts. The govern- 
ment men would not commit themselves. 

California's delegates stormed out in a fury at the end of the 
first session. Next day they requested a delay until they could 
find how far their water rights would be invaded. When this 
was rejected by the other states California asked to discuss the 
question without the presence of government officials. The upper 
states and Arizona blocked this move as well, and pressed for 
a vote on the treaty. 

At that point the irate Californians concluded that they were 
victims of conspiracy. E. F. Scattergood of Los Angeles, repre- 
senting the power contractors, charged that if the committee 
wanted to act without any more discussion "there must have been 
a great deal of discussion somewhere," unknown to the Califor- 


"Now we are not permitted," he raged, "even an opportunity 
to discuss it with our engineers, and among ourselves; that doesn't 
seem to be wanted." 

The Californians were able to delay action for another day, 
but it was a hopeless fight. Next morning the proposed treaty 
passed overwhelmingly, with the California men as the sole ob- 
jectors and Nevada abstaining. Another resolution was quickly 
offered, lauding the State Department in its work, and passed by 
the same vote. Before the Californians could recover, a third 
resolution was proposed, urging that the government take over 
all Imperial Valley diversion works, including the All-American 
Canal, for the delivery of water to Mexico under the treaty. To 
the outraged Californians this was final proof that the other states 
were playing the State Department's game. Phil Swing, who had 
devoted his life to acquiring those facilities for Imperial, erupted 
with anger. 

"This is the final humiliation," he roared, "and adds to the 
indignity already done to California and its communities." Charg- 
ing that the committee was invading their constitutional rights 
of ownership, he shamed the other states for the "steam-roller 
methods . . . with which you have rolled toward your predeter- 
mined goal." 

Chairman of the meeting was Judge Clifford H. Stone of 
Denver, one of the best-known irrigation lawyers in the West 
and a leading figure in the upper-state delegation. With cool- 
ness and determination he replied that the conflict was merely 
a difference of opinion. "I want to say some of us fully appreciate 
the position California is in. ... We think we know there are 
some reasons why you cannot join in some action and yet that 
should not deter the best judgment of the other members. . . ." 
To Californians this was the same as saying that as long as the 
other states believed they were protected by the treaty California 
could rot. 

"Is there any other comment?" asked Stone, preparing for the 
vote on the final motion. 

"There is no use arguing the obvious," Arvin Shaw concluded 

Thereupon the committee passed a last motion to strip Cali- 
fornia of its border irrigation works. Even Nevada voted with 


Arizona and the upper states. Then the Santa Fe meeting ad- 
journed, and the crisis in the Mexican question was over. Until 
that time California had been secure in the support of the upper 
basin and Arizona for a Mexican burden which would not harm 
her contracts. But to her representatives it was now obvious that 
government negotiators had somehow drawn away the other 
states. Undoubtedly their main argument had been that 1 5500,000 
acre-feet was the least that Mexico woud take, and that if an 
agreement was not reached now she could later appeal to the 
Inter-American Arbitration Court for a settlement. By that time 
the Mexican irrigators would have built up an even greater use 
of Colorado water, and the United States might lose much more 
than 1,500,000 acre-feet. The irrigating canals on both sides of 
the border, however, were now controlled by Americans. Without 
their consent Mexico could not increase her water use or even 
maintain the use she had built up since Hoover Dam. 

In the end the upper delegates adopted the State Department's 
proposal because they were determined to pin down Mexico's use 
by some treaty, and because they believed this particular treaty 
would do so without invading their own water rights. Arizona's 
reasons were more obscure. She claimed to share with California 
the river's unapportioned surplus, but this proposed treaty prac- 
tically wiped that out. 

Even during the negotiations with Mexico the Californians 
were unable to fight the proposed treaty. The affair had been 
treated as a military secret, and the government had repeatedly 
cautioned the committee against discussing the subject. Undoubt- 
edly it would have been unfortunate if the talks with Mexico had 
taken place against a background of California publicity, but at 
the same time this gag rule forced Californians to sit helplessly 
by while the treaty was concluded in the fall of 1943. 

In December the document giving 1,500,000 acre-feet a year 
to Mexico was submitted to the Colorado basin states. All ap- 
proved except California. As for Texas, her consent was not de- 
layed on a document which gave her a third of lower Rio Grande 
water with a guaranteed minimum of 350,000 acre-feet enough 
to assure healthy development of key agricultural areas. 

From the time the Mexican treaty was signed and announced 
on February 3, 1944, California roared its opposition. The secret 


was now out, and the state threw off its gag and pitched in with 
arms flailing. Since ratification by the United States Senate was 
needed to put the instrument into effect, California marshaled 
her weapons for a showdown in Washington. 

The Metropolitan Water District promptly got out an elabo- 
rate brochure damning the agreement; on its back cover were 
photographs of Southern California city and farm scenes all 
being covered up by a grasping hand labeled "Mexican Treaty." 
Leading newspapers thundered that California had been "sold 
down the river," that precious Colorado water had been bar- 
gained off to get Rio Grande benefits for Texas, that Arizona 
and the upper states had deliberately knifed California. 

Whether true or not, the charges were effective. A tremendous 
weight of California public opinion was whipped up against the 
treaty. Los Angeles, warned that every added acre-foot for Mex- 
ico meant a loss of five persons for the city's ultimate population, 
was pinched in a vulnerable spot ; she promptly became the head- 
quarters of opposition. Senators Hiram Johnson and Sheridan 
Downey pledged an unyielding fight when the document came 
before the upper house. Even the state of Nevada, whose stake 
of 300,000 acre-feet in the river was comparatively safe, joined 
California in denouncing the Mexican settlement. 

With the treaty thus becoming a political hot potato, the Sen- 
ate viewed it with a cautious eye and evidently decided to post- 
pone action until after the 1944 elections. For several months the 
battle of words raged on. By midsummer the treaty advocates 
had become alarmed at the California clamor and organized for 
the campaign. Meeting in Santa Fe, the states of Texas, Arizona, 
and the upper basin struck back with a resolution against "the 
aggressive and unrestrained activities of those whose opposition 
to the treaty appears to result from a selfish and misguided local 

California was soon facing more formidable odds than a hand- 
ful of Western states. By early 1945 public sentiment in the East 
largely favored the Mexican treaty as a necessary earnest of 
American good-neighborliness. California was regarded as a 
selfish child which would not subordinate its wishes to the wel- 
fare of the family. 

"If Senator Johnson got the necessary votes to kill off the 


treaty," said the New York Post, "it would be a famous victory 
for California citrus growers, but it would be a stunning blow 
tp United States-Mexican amity." 

"It is not quite clear," agreed the Baltimore Sun, "how Cali- 
fornia would deny Mexico's claim other than by brandishing the 
might of the United States over Mexico's head." 

Here was the chief weakness in California's stand: her cam- 
paign for defeat of the Mexican treaty carried no practical al- 
ternative. To reopen negotiations with Mexico toward a water 
reduction could only make America appear to be "beating down" 
its weaker neighbor. Most opinion seemed to agree with the news 
commentator who declared that the treaty "would merit favor- 
able action by the Senate even if it means a real sacrifice on our 
part." California, however, failed to see the justice in sacrificing 
water from the one section of the nation which needed it most. 

On January 22, 1945, hearings began before the Senate For- 
eign Relations Committee, with resolute Tom Connally of Texas 
holding the strategic position of chairman. For a full month the 
proceedings were mainly a duel between him and a parade of 
California witnesses. During most of the sessions the only other 
member of the huge committee present was venerable Hiram 
Johnson of California; his sharp-witted colleague, Senator Sheri- 
dan Downey, called it one of the most "distinguished and intelli- 
gent" but also "the most absent" body he had ever addressed. 
The room was filled, however, with other interested senators and 
water men from Colorado states, including the spokesman for 
the upper basin, the resourceful Senator Eugene Millikin of Colo- 

With the treaty's proponents, glowering old Senator Johnson 
was unrelenting. A fervid American patriot, he could not under- 
stand how United States officials could voluntarily give American 
water to Mexico. His course of attack in questioning the govern- 
ment witnesses never departed from two basic points: i. "Do you 
feel that you are representing Mexico or the United States?" 
2. "Are you seeking to destroy Boulder Dam?" But those who 
recalled the powerful figure of the 19205 who had rocked the 
Senate with his Boulder Canyon battle could see that the old 
tigerlike agility at cross-examination had faded. 

Late in February 1 945 the entire Foreign Relations Committee 


assembled long enough to vote an overwhelming approval of the 
Mexican treaty. Connally and Millikin had won their first round, 
and now guided it onto the Senate floor for debate. There the 
Californians, backed by the Nevada senators, launched a furious 
opposition. Leading them was Sheridan Downey, a Democrat 
bold enough to oppose the Administration on Western water 
matters. Realizing early in April that the treaty was destined 
for passage, Downey and Hiram Johnson offered twenty-nine 
reservations enough to change the whole complexion of the 
document. They were quickly attacked by Connally and Millikin, 
who told the Senate that the Californians were simply trying to 
smother the treaty with amendments. 

But through many days of floor debate one argument of 
Downey's received no adequate answer. Provision had not been 
made in the treaty, he pointed out, concerning the quality of 
the water delivered. State Department officials had assured Colo- 
rado basin states that no American projects would ever suffer 
from the Mexican burden, as their "return flow" (the water seep- 
ing back into the river) would always be enough to satisfy the 
1,500,000 acre-feet. But return water, insisted Downey, becomes 
increasingly loaded with alkali from the soil, and would almost 
certainly be worthless for irrigation in Mexico. Could she not, 
he demanded, ask that the United States send down enough fresh 
water to dilute the return flow and make it usable? State Depart- 
ment officials had largely evaded the question in committee hear- 
ings, except to say that Mexico understood the provisions of the 
treaty, which were framed to protect the United States from any 
responsibility for the quality of water. 

Here was a vulnerable point, and Downey attacked it unmerci- 
fully. On April 12, Arizona's tall and rugged Senator Ernest W. 
McFarland was making his chief pro-treaty speech. The Califor- 
nian interrupted to inquire whether he believed "that the pend- 
ing treaty means that Mexico must take water regardless of qual- 
ity ... ?" 

"Yes, I think so," returned McFarland. 

In order to prevent misunderstanding, pressed Downey, would 
he not support a provision that Mexico's water "shall be taken 
regardless of quality?" 

The Arizonian knew that such a provision would almost cer- 


tainly kill the treaty in the Mexican Senate. "Let us not," he 
countered, "put into the treaty something which will lead Mexico 
to believe we intend to put something over on her. . . . Why 
should we be so concerned about her welfare all of a sudden?" 

Downey then made another thrust. Applying the same reason- 
ing to Arizona, he asked McFarland whether his state would 
never ask the upper basin for any extra fresh water to dilute 
her allotment. Now the shoe was reversed. McFarland answered 
that he hoped it could be assured. "I will take all the water for 
Arizona I can get." 

The Californian's proddings brought a quick and unexpected 
reaction. Immediately one of Utah's senators rose and thundered 
a warning on behalf of the upper Colorado states. 

"I want to serve notice now ... on Arizona, California, and 
Nevada that, so far as the quality of the water that arrives at 
Lee Ferry is concerned, that is not the responsibility of the 
upper-basin states; if it is not good water, it is your funeral and 
not ours." 

If Downey had meant to stir up some hidden Colorado River 
skeletons, he was succeeding too well. The sudden exchange left 
basin water men a trifle stunned. They could see all their careful 
calculations on future water use threatened by a new factor. If 
the lower basin was not willing to make provision for diluting 
Mexico's return-flow water, it might not in turn expect to de- 
mand any quality standards in its own water from the upper 

California was alarmed enough to send one of its water lawyers 
down to Mexico to discover her understanding of the treaty. 
After searching records in Mexico City, he returned with dark 
news. Mexican negotiators had told their Senate that the water, 
according to the treaty, must be usable. 

But it was too late to affect matters in the U. S. Senate. On 
April 1 7 the lawmakers began voting on California's reservations, 
discarding them one by one. Finally they considered a last crucial 
amendment, which would have reduced Mexico's share of water 
proportionately in any year of below-average drought. At this 
point Hiram Johnson gained the floor for his only speech on the 
Mexican treaty, and one of the last he would make before his 
death in the summer of 1945. 

"There is no difference," he began, "between the taking of 
land, as we all know it, and the taking of water. . . ." Then, 
charging that the Mexican treaty would take water from Cali- 
fornia, the venerable warrior called for compassion on the farm- 
ers, with their families and their "little homes" in Imperial Val- 
ley. "I implore the Senate, I beg the Senate to give them a square 
deal, rather than reach over into Mexico and give Mexico a 
square deal." 

It was as good a summary of the situation as any. There was 
not enough water to give everybody a "square deal." Southwest- 
ern United States was called upon to make a sacrifice in the inter- 
ests of international good will. It might as well have been land 
itself as water, for in that semiarid country it is water that gives 
value to the land. 

A few minutes after Johnson's speech the Senate voted down 
the amendment he championed. Next day it ratified the treaty, 
76-10. Mexico approved it in September, and before the end 
of 1945 the agreement was declared to be in effect. 

Its impact, no matter which side was right, will be left to the 
future. Then it will be unmercifully plain how much the com- 
munities which financed the Boulder Project will suffer by the 
water harvest it reaped for Mexico. And by then there will be 
a hard re-emergence of the hidden question on the quality of 
Mexico's share. Whether American users will have to send down 
more water to make it usable is one of the biggest remaining 
question marks of the Colorado. It seems almost inconceivable 
that United States negotiators should have sold Mexico some- 
thing she cannot use. 

In any case it appears that the litigation and discord that the 
treaty has sown cannot bring the kind of Colorado River peace 
for which it was intended. But in spite of all the doubts left by 
that 1945 decision, one thing was certain: at last California had 
lost a major fight in the struggle over Colorado River water. 

14: At the Last Wafer Hole 

The new Mexican burden on the river had one immediate effect: 
it stirred up the old Colorado controversy north of the border. As 


soon as Arizona realized that a Mexican settlement was ap- 
proaching she hurried to perfect her own water claims. For 
twenty years she had held aloof from the Colorado Compact, 
even refusing to accept a proffered government water contract 
for a share of the river. Now the probability of a heavy Mexican 
claim forced her to take refuge in the same American water 
agreements she had shunned. Arizona could not afford to be 
caught at the end of the line in the last division of the Colorado. 

Besides, Arizona had a new governor who was determined to 
build up his state's water empire, and to do it by accepting the 
Compact and contract rather than fighting them. Sidney P. 
Osborn was an irrepressible product of Arizona. He typified his 
state in his robust ambition, his down-to-earth style, his stubborn 
individuality. He was the one governor in the United States who 
never attended a governors' conference. During the war, while 
the rest of the nation ran on Daylight Saving Time, Arizona was 
an hour behind on "Osborn Time." 

His yearning for the governor's chair took root in boyhood; 
there is still a schoolbook in existence marked with the cryptic 
declaration: "Sidney P. Osborn, Governor of Arizona." In 1912 
he became Arizona's first secretary of state, and six years later 
ran unsuccessfully for governor. He was to have two more de- 
feats before he was swept overwhelmingly into office in 1 940. 

Together with Arizona's leading irrigation men, Osborn laid 
immediate plans for the water future of the state. For two 
decades she had been able to avoid the Colorado Compact with- 
out harm, as her own geography made early use of the main- 
stream water nearly impossible. While California and the upper 
states had gained federal financing for Colorado projects, Ari- 
zona relied on the belief that continued progress in engineering 
technique would someday make her own reclamation schemes 

By the time Governor Osborn took office water adversities in 
Arizona had forced her to turn to these main-stream projects, 
regardless of expense. Osborn knew that the only way Arizona 
could seek outside help was to abandon her isolationism, join the 
Compact, and make the most of it. Accordingly in March 1943 
the Arizona legislature announced it would ratify the Compact, 
provided the government would grant a satisfactory contract for 

her claim to water from the Colorado's main stream. This, of 
course, was the issue that had divided the lower basin for years. 
The Boulder Canyon Act had suggested 2,800,000 acre-feet as 
Arizona's rightful share of the Colorado, but failed to make it 
clear whether this was all main-stream water, or included the 
Gila tributary. The answer to the riddle was crucial. Arizona was 
willing to accept such a share, with the understanding that it was 
to come entirely from the main stream. California claimed such a 
figure included the Gila, on which Arizonans were said to be 
using some 2,300,000 acre-feet leaving only 500,000 from the 
main Colorado. 

On this basis California opposed Arizona's contract in hear- 
ings before the Interior Department beginning in May 1943. It 
was right after the stormy Santa Fe meeting on the Mexican 
issue, in which Arizona had joined the upper states in approving 
the government's proposed treaty. When those upper states now 
supported Arizona's contract claim Californians declared they 
knew at last why Arizona had backed the treaty. Arizona argued, 
however, that this was the same settlement which the govern- 
ment had offered years before. 

Finally California conceded that she would not oppose such a 
contract, provided it constituted no settlement of the controversy 
and was subject to the prior California and Nevada contracts. 
Despite these conditions the Arizona legislature accepted the con- 
tract on February 24, 1944. On the same day, after the longest 
continuous session ever held by the legislature, it ratified the 
Colorado Compact and joined the other six basin states after 
twenty-two years. It was, cried one bitter opponent, "the blackest 
day in the history of the state." 

But to Governor Osborn and the state's water planners it was 
another step toward the realization of Arizona's water needs. For 
on that same decisive day the legislature passed still another 
measure an appropriation of $200,000 for surveys on a mam- 
moth canal to bring Colorado water to the Phoenix plateau. This 
was old George Maxwell's dream of the 19205 the famed "High- 
Line" project which Arizonans had cherished for a generation as 
their state's salvation. Osborn's victory on contract and Compact 
was now calculated to provide enough water for it, in spite of 
Arizona's continued feud with California. All at once the South- 


west tumbled to Arizona's strategy, and the battle for the lower 
Colorado was on once more. 

The bold move had come none too soon for Arizona's water 
users. Drought years and dropping water levels had intensified 
their interest in the Colorado main stream, regardless of for- 
midable expense. The 1944 water contract came at a critical 
time, if Arizona's share in the Colorado was to give her any 
comfort at all. 

Since the early 19305 Arizona's water resources had been slip- 
ping relentlessly backward. Until then her agriculture had been 
expanding through construction of great storage reservoirs. 
Roosevelt Dam, completed on the Salt River in 1911, was the 
keystone in the rising economy of the Phoenix area. Farther to 
the Southeast, Coolidge Dam had been finished in 1928 to bring 
a more abundant supply to Indian and American farmers on the 
upper Gila. Such projects, together with a wet cycle in the 19205, 
had enabled Arizona's cultivated acreage to spread by thirty per 
cent in the eight years preceding 1930. 

With its farmlands thus overextended, Arizona was abruptly 
caught in the drought of the thirties. In four years her irrigated 
land dropped by one tenth. The new Coolidge Reservoir on the 
Gila was never filled to capacity. By 1935 a system of wells had 
to be installed throughout its project lands to supplement the 
stored supply with ground water. 

The return of wetter years in the late 19305 only encouraged 
new crop increases, and sinking underground levels had no 
chance to recover. With the coming of World War II, Arizona 
joined the rest of the nation in a furious agricultural boom. In 
the region served by Coolidge Dam the number of irrigated acres 
nearly doubled. From 1940 to 1945 Arizona's income from crops 
soared from $27,000,000 to $90,000,000. The state was beginning 
to experience some of the lush prosperity which truck and citrus 
farming had already helped to provide for California. 

Arizona's expansion was placed on borrowed water, however, 
with the beginning of another dry cycle after 1941. Despite the 
use of her storage reservoirs there was scarcely an acre in the 
state that did not depend on pumped water for at least part of 
its supply. During the war years Arizona's farmers annually with- 
drew nearly 500,000 acre-feet more water from the ground than 

nature replaced, sending levels downward at the rate of five feet 
a year. In some areas they reached depths of more than two 
hundred feet, forcing a pumping expense which ate heavily into 
farm profits. Other vast acreages lacked the necessary fresh 
water to hold down the dangerous accumulation of salt in the 

By the war's end water was being pumped out of the land 
twice as fast as it was being replenished. In 1945, with water 
standing low behind Coolidge Dam, farmers in the San Carlos 
area were rationed two acre-feet for every acre little more than 
half the amount needed to raise a full crop. In 1946 the ration 
dropped to one per acre, then to a fraction in 1947 allowing 
only a fourth of the region's irrigable land to be planted. By 
spring of that year Goolidge Reservoir was desert-dry, and the 
farmers subsisted on the slim supply from local wells. 

Through most of the state's farm country, in fact, the people 
were competing desperately for fast-disappearing water levels. 
The race intensified when it was known that the state legislature 
would soon pass a ground-water code to restrict excess pumping. 
Faced with emergency, the legislature hastened to pass the code 
in March 1948, prohibiting any new wells in critical areas. 

But this merely assured that Arizona's retreat would be orderly. 
Unless her failing water sources could be replenished, warned her 
leading water men, the state had nowhere to go but backward. 
Some 175,000 acres must be abandoned to desert and several 
hundred thousand citizens must depart to more fortunate lo- 

Here, indeed, was the climactic moment toward which all 
Arizona's water history had pointed. The ambitious High-Line 
scheme conceived by George Maxwell a generation before must 
perform its noble mission for Arizona. No longer was it a matter 
of watering 2,000,000 acres of desert lands, as Maxwell had en- 
visioned, but of rescuing those already cultivated by Arizona's 
own streams. Sidney Osborn and the state's water experts had 
won a favorable water contract; now they meant to make this 
giant project feasible. 

Arizona had already appropriated $200,000 in survey funds, 
and in August 1944 the U. S. Reclamation Bureau sent its engi- 
neers into the desert to locate a canal route to the Granite Reef 


dam, in the Phoenix area. They found two possible plans for 
diverting Colorado water by gravity. One was a diversion at 
Marble Canyon, near the Utah-Arizona border, involving a tun- 
nel no less than 143 miles long. The other called for diversion of 
the water at Bridge Canyon, west of Grand Canyon, through a 
more moderate tunnel only 77 miles long. The first of these 
plans, estimated to cost nearly $1,000,000,000, was crossed off 
with superb conservatism in the bureau's preliminary report of 
September 1945. 

There was a third plan, requiring few engineering difficulties, 
no long tunnels, and a smaller construction expense. But it meant 
pumping water nearly a thousand feet high out of Parker Reser- 
voir, where California's Metropolitan Water District diverted its 
water. As this was an operational expense which any farmer 
knew was prohibitive, it was suggested that government power 
for the pumping could be provided by a dam at Bridge Canyon, 
which was a promising power site anyway. Then, in years hence 
when the long Bridge Canyon tunnel became feasible, it could be 
built to take the place of the pumped water from Parker. More- 
over, since Bridge Canyon's small reservoir capacity would be 
quickly filled with sediment, another dam would later have to be 
constructed upstream at Glen Canyon to desilt the water. 

It was a scheme which was, to say the least, elaborate. You 
build a dam at Glen Canyon to desilt the river for a dam at 
Bridge Canyon, which generates power to be sent down to Parker 
Dam, to pump water to Phoenix. And since the pumping is too 
expensive, you build a 77-mile tunnel to take its place, later on. 
It sounded reasonable enough to Arizona's irrigation experts, who 
desperately sought a solution to their water crisis. 

The scheme required, of course, a great deal of arithmetic. 
Repayment of the cost would load the farmer with a burden of 
$6.50 for every acre-foot of water delivered. Since he could stand 
only $4.50 and still make a profit, the extra $2.00 would be subsi- 
dized by power revenues from Bridge Canyon. Only one third of 
its potential energy would be needed for the Parker pump lift, 
and the other two thirds could be sold on the market. And the 
two per cent interest on the government's investment could be 
written off and applied to the farmer's burden. But even with a 
gift of the interest, amounting to something more than $1,000,- 


ooo,ooo eventually, the government still could not get back its 
investment in the fifty years required by reclamation law. That 
provision would have to be changed to eighty years. 

Arizonans were not awed by these obstacles. In mid-February 
1946 their state officials and members of Congress met with 
Reclamation Bureau engineers for a final strategy conference in 
Washington. Out of that meeting came a plan of action for what 
was to be known as the Central Arizona Project. The bureau 
would make a report on the feasibility of the Bridge Canyon 
route. The congressmen would introduce a bill extending the 
time of reclamation project repayments to eighty years. Then the 
way would be cleared for a bill authorizing the Central Arizona 
Project itself. 

On June 17, 1946, the Reclamation Bureau released its com- 
prehensive report on the Colorado basin, including in it an out- 
line of Arizona's Bridge Canyon scheme. Next day Ernest Mc- 
Farland, Arizona's lanky junior senator, introduced the bill 
liberalizing the reclamation law. Immediately California's water 
men saw the danger. Hurrying across the continent, they de- 
scended on Washington like a Western windstorm. 

The House Irrigation Subcommittee was then hearing a bill 
for another Arizona project a plan for reclaiming some 1 10,000 
acres around the mouth of the Gila River with main-stream water 
from Imperial Dam. In charge of the meetings was none other 
than Congressman John R. Murdock of Arizona, chairman of 
the subcommittee. California had previously been concerned over 
the amount of water the project might use; now her water men 
invaded those hearings in genuine alarm late in June 1 946. There 
might be water enough in the Colorado for that Gila plan, but 
not for both it and this gigantic new Bridge Canyon project. 

They found the Arizona men ready for them with legal and 
engineering data to prove that enough water existed for the two 
projects. California, they explained, had restricted herself to 
4,400,000 acre-feet of apportioned water in her Limitation Act 
and the Boulder Canyon Act. The Compact, they said, appor- 
tioned 7,500,000 acre-feet to the lower basin in paragraph III a, 
and another 1,000,000 in III b a total of 8,500,000. Subtract- 
ing California's 4,400,000 and the accepted figure of 300,000 for 
Nevada, there remained 3,800,000 for Arizona. Of this, some- 


thing like 1,100,000 was Gila River water the natural flow it 
had emptied into the main stream before Arizona farmers had 
applied it all to their lands. That left some 2,700,000 for Arizona 
from the main stream enough to supply both projects. It was a 
matter of simple mathematics. 

Then the Californians launched their attack. The 7,500,000 
acre-feet in paragraph III a, they agreed, were "apportioned," 
but the 1,000,000 in III b were not. The lower basin had merely 
been permitted to "increase its use" of the unapportioned "sur- 
plus" by that amount. It was surplus water, not apportioned, and 
according to the Limitation Act, California was entitled to one 
half. This left 3,300,000 for Arizona. As for the Gila, Arizona's 
real consumption measured upstream at the points of usage 
was some 2,300,000. Subtracting this from the 3,300,000 left only 
1,000,000 of main-stream water. Arizona's long-standing Yuma 
project took enough of that to make the Gila plan doubt- 
ful and the Bridge Canyon scheme impossible. Now, concluded 
James Howard of the Metropolitan District, if Arizona would 
abide by these simple facts of life, "I will take the first plane out 
of here." 

Arizona had no such intention. Her chief water attorney, 
Charles A. Carson, was prepared to argue the water issues with 
the Californians point by point. A leading Phoenix lawyer since 
the 19203, the quick-witted Carson had represented his state in 
water matters from the time of her Supreme Court fights with 
California in the early thirties. He now shot back at the Cali- 
fornians a stern observation: Arizona's only demand was that 
they live up to the provisions of California's Limitation Act and 
the Boulder Canyon Act. 

All at once the old California-Arizona controversy had flared 
again this time higher than ever. The drought cycle of the 
19305 had not only made both sides more water-conscious, it had 
also depressed their estimates of the average flow of the river. 
Then much of the remaining "surplus" water had been snatched 
away by the Mexican treaty. There was now even less water in a 
river which had never been adequate for all demands. As an 
Arizonan had remarked years before, when the Compact had left 
the lower basin with half the river, "It has always been my obser- 
vation that the less water in sight, the harder the fight." 

Very well, said California's representatives. As long as there 
was a controversy over the water, that should be settled first 
before any more projects were authorized. John Phillips, Cali- 
fornia's senior member on the House Irrigation Committee, had 
a specific proposal. Reminding Charles Carson of his demand 
that California adhere to the Boulder Canyon Act, he asked 
whether Arizona would be willing to sign a lower-basin treaty 
with California and Nevada on the basis of its provisions. 

"I do not think that California will," answered Carson. 

"I asked if you will." 

"Well " 

"Will you sign a three-state compact?" pressed Phillips. 
". . . Will Arizona sign a compact in the exact words ... of 
the Boulder Canyon Act?" 

"We cannot sign it in the exact words because we have to have 
some definitions." 

"Is not that the whole kernel in the nutshell?" demanded the 
Californian. "In other words, you want to change the Boulder 
Canyon Act before you sign a compact?" At that Chairman 
Murdock of Arizona adjourned the meeting. Next day Phillips 
intended to find out whether Arizona would enter any agreement. 

"Now, I would just like to ask Mr. Carson in very simple 
language: do I understand now that Arizona refuses to arbi- 

"Yes, sir," replied Carson; "you can understand that." 

At this rebuff California had one other proposal. Obviously the 
issue was entirely a matter of conflicting interpretations on the 
existing law of the river: Colorado Compact, Boulder Canyon 
Act, and California Limitation Act. Why not place the whole 
question before the Supreme Court and abide by its decision? 
No, said the Arizonans. They had already been to the Supreme 
Court three times in the 19305, and California had blocked a set- 
tlement then. In fact in one of those cases that in 1934 con- 
cerning the Gila River the Court had supported Arizona's 
present interpretation that III b water was "apportioned." 
Therefore there was nothing to interpret and no controversy. 

California retorted with her own arguments. In that Gila case 
the Court had merely "remarked" that III b was apportioned; it 
had not made a ruling. And as for the other two suits, in which 


Arizona was trying to set aside the Compact and the other docu- 
ments, she had then argued the same interpretations which Cali- 
fornia now upheld: that III b was not exclusively Arizona's, it 
was not "apportioned," Arizona would be charged with 2,900,- 
ooo acre-feet of Gila water, and California was entitled to an 
ample 5,485,000 acre-feet. Thus, said the Californians, Arizona 
could scarcely claim there was only one interpretation of the laws, 
that their meaning was clear, and that there was no controversy. 

Arizona's answer was that her former statements had also been 
mere "remarks," and that since the present issues had not then 
arisen it was not fair to hold her accountable to them. And in 
any case California had no controversy without an actual threat 
to her water claims. The quickest way to get the question into the 
courts, said Arizona, was to join her in putting through the 
Bridge Canyon project. 

California turned patiently to pursue her court request through 
official channels. Earl Warren, California's genial and aggressive 
governor, wrote a letter in March 1947 to the governors of 
Nevada and Arizona. To end the dispute he suggested that the 
three states try negotiation, arbitration, or finally a Supreme 
Court suit. Nevada replied that the most likely solution was the 
Supreme Court suit. From resolute Sidney P. Osborn in Arizona 
came a different answer : he would be willing to talk things over, 
but it "is difficult for me to understand what, if anything further, 
need be done" for Arizona to get support from California and 
Nevada on her proposed projects. When Warren wrote again in 
May suggesting a suit in the Supreme Court, Osborn's second 
reply was adamant. 

"If California would be content with the use of the quantity 
of water to which she has . . . irrevocably limited herself for- 
ever," the Arizonan wryly observed, "all occasion for any feeling 
that any further compact, any arbitration or litigation is advisa- 
ble would disappear." 

To Arizona there was still no controversy. By this time, with 
the contenders unable to agree whether or not there was even a 
dispute, the Gila project had grown too complicated for most 
congressmen on the House committee. They postponed the whole 
issue by authorizing the Gila project with a ceiling use of 600,000 
acre-feet a figure which California accepted as offering no 

threat to her own water rights. The committee also recom- 
mended, however, that the water controversy be settled by agree- 
ment or court decision, "because it jeopardizes and will delay the 
possibility of prompt development of any further projects on the 
lower Colorado." 

But even before the Gila project passed Congress in 1 947, Ari- 
zona had introduced her bill for the Central Arizona Project, 
with a pump lift at Parker and a power dam at Bridge Canyon. 
Calif ornians saw in this a direct opposition to the House com- 
mittee's recommendations. The new Bridge Canyon project, 
placed on top of the Gila project, immediately imperiled Cali- 
fornia's Colorado claims to the extent of some 1,200,000 acre-feet. 
Henceforth the long dispute over the Colorado was to be a bitter, 
last-ditch fight. 

Since the end of World War II, in fact, Calif ornians had realized 
that the renewed Arizona controversy was a veritable life-and- 
death struggle for the two states. Drought had not struck Arizona 
alone. The cycle of low rainfall that began in the mid- 19405 had 
caught whole cities overextended in growth, just as Arizona's 
acreage had been overextended. By early 1948, Southern Cali- 
fornia was facing the driest winter in history. Reservoirs had 
dropped below the danger levels, city fountains were turned off, 
swimming pools were closed, air-conditioning systems shut down. 
By summer some 300,000 farm acres went without water, so great 
had been the wintertime drain on local reservoirs. Drying streams 
in the Sierras brought on a severe power shortage; Governor 
Earl Warren declared a water emergency and placed the state on 
Daylight Saving Time to conserve power. In some cities further 
power savings were made by "brownouts" unpleasant remind- 
ers of wartime "blackouts." 

The water famine reached its climax in the coastal city of 
Ventura, some seventy miles north of Los Angeles. As early as 
October 1947 its main source, the Ventura River, gave out and 
threw the community back on local wells for its supply. In a 
matter of weeks Ventura was rationing water. By March 1 948 the 
reservoirs were so low that one section of town could no longer 
get a gravity flow. Household faucets went completely dry. The 
local elementary school closed on March 12. Residents, alarmed 


but resourceful, began hauling in water from outside areas. Two 
of the three reservoirs in Ventura were practically desert-dry by 
the second week in March, and the third had so little water that 
it would scarcely cover normal fire emergencies. 

Faced with disaster, Mayor Ed Gardner led Ventura's citizens 
in a last-minute fight against absolute thirst. Well-drilling equip- 
ment was rushed in and crews were set to work at scattered 
sections of town. The first one drilled no less than 1522 feet 
deep was ready for use by the thirteenth. But it was still nearly 
a mile and a half from the city's nearest mains, and steel piping 
was a scarce item in Ventura. 

Ed Gardner and his water men were dealing with that prob- 
lem too. Up from Glendale, near Los Angeles, trucks were 
already speeding over the highways with the precious pipes. Ar- 
riving just before noon, they hurriedly dropped off the pipe along 
the new water route. 

As if to relieve the tension, the heavens opened up at the 
same time with a sudden downpour. It was only half an inch, 
but enough to send grateful householders rushing for tubs and 
water buckets. 

On the same morning a second well was completed near the 
first, and next day a welding crew worked at top speed to fasten 
the pipe line together. Across town another team of drillers was 
hurrying to bring in a third well. In two more days water was 
flowing through all of Ventura's mains once more. There was still 
a shortage, but at least there was water in the faucets. Tired, 
unshaven Mayor Ed Gardner, standing in his muddy work 
clothes, had a word to say before heading home to rest. 

"After this experience/' he admitted, "we can testify to the 
importance of water planning." 

A few miles on up the coast the same hard lesson had been 
learned by quaint, sun-drenched Santa Barbara a thriving and 
wealthy city by any standards except that of water. The postwar 
drought had caught her with a population of 33,000 roughly 
two thirds more than her existing water works had been built to 
provide. Moreover, her principal reservoir, Gibraltar Dam on the 
Santa Ynez River, had been filling with silt since its completion 
in 1920. By the end of World War II it was holding only half its 
original capacity of 14,500 acre-feet. Here was a situation loaded 


with disaster. Detecting the beginnings of a new dry cycle in 

1946, Santa Barbara hurried to raise the height of Gibraltar Dam 
and restore the reservoir to its initial volume. 

It was a slim escape from a threatened calamity. But already 
Santa Barbara's water seekers were planning a new and plentiful 
supply which would remove their city from the brink of thirst. 
The Reclamation Bureau had stepped in and made water surveys 
for a new Cachuma Dam on the Santa Ynez, reporting favorably 
on the project in June 1945. Situated downstream (and north- 
ward) from Gibraltar, it would hold a capacity of 210,000 acre- 
feet fifteen times that of the older reservoir. This kind of 
volume, brought through the Santa Ynez Mountains by the six- 
and-a-half-mile Tecolote Tunnel, would serve all the communi- 
ties in the Santa Barbara area. To finance the scheme, a County 
Water Agency was created, consisting of Santa Barbara, Monte- 
cito, Carpinteria, and other coastal towns. But delays and dis- 
agreements left the work still unlaunched three years later. 

Then the drought cycle hit its driest bottom. By December 

1947, Santa Barbara water men realized there was only a four 
months' supply in Gibraltar Reservoir. Frantically they turned to 
the county's underground sources. Six wells were hurriedly 
driven to ease the shortage, but when water levels began to drop, 
Santa Barbara was further from relief than ever. By early 1948 
her citizens were on strict water rations not an unfamiliar oc- 
currence in the water-hungry town. Lawns and fishponds dried 
up, and car washing became a serious offense. A committee of 
"vigilantes" cruised through the city checking meters for water 
wasters. Santa Barbarans began calling their town "Sahara Bar- 
bara." They squeezed through 1948 with a glimpse of calamity 
and a precarious escape from thirst. 

Santa Barbara had now had enough of water delays. In No- 
vember 1949 an election was held on the Reclamation Bureau's 
new Cachuma Dam. Santa Barbarans cast aside their opposition 
to bureau interference, voted in the project, and prepared to 
enjoy some security against drought and water famine. With a 
present population of at least 42,000, and a water supply built for 
a safe capacity of 20,000 in dry years, they will be getting it none 
too soon. 

Farther south, in that part of Southern California which looked 
to the Colorado for its last water supply, the postwar drought had 
an equal impact. San Diego was among the first to feel the pinch. 
As naval center of the Pacific coast, she came alive with activity 
during the war years, mushrooming from a 200,000 population in 
1940 to 450,000 in 1944. Aircraft plants and military installations 
which were using eleven per cent of her water supply in 1940 
absorbed forty-five per cent of it by 1944. The situation brought 
increasing alarm to San Diego's city officials. Only the fortunate 
recurrence of wet years, they knew, was keeping San Diego's 
reservoirs replenished. A return of dry years could be expected 
at any time. 

Before the end of 1944, San Diego officials joined naval au- 
thorities in moving against a threatened catastrophe. The U. S. 
Reclamation Bureau reported that "it would be foolhardy to rely 
on a continuation of the favorable conditions of the past four 
years. . . ." Accordingly, with the hub of America's Pacific naval 
strength threatened by water shortage, every effort of the gov- 
ernment was turned to meet the crisis. President Roosevelt even 
notified the Senate of "an impending emergency in the water 
supply of San Diego, California." Under his orders on November 
29, 1944, the U. S. Navy proceeded to build an aqueduct to bring 
San Diego's water rights of 1 1 2,000 acre-feet from the Colorado 

The San Diego water men had long planned to divert this by 
an extension from the Ail-American Canal in Imperial Valley 
a cheaper route than a connection with the Metropolitan 
Water District's aqueduct. But speed was now more important 
than cost. Engineers figured that, in contrast to the estimated 
six years needed for completion of the Imperial route, the Metro- 
politan route would require only two a saving of four precious 
years that might mean escape from disaster for San Diego. 

Negotiations were immediately opened for membership in the 
Metropolitan Water District, and an agreement was reached in 
April 1946. The city and county of San Diego would pool their 
112,000 acre-feet with the district's 1,100,000, and would in 
turn receive water on a par with other members according to 
assessed valuation. 


At the same time actual construction had begun in the fall of 
1945. From the western mouth of San Jacinto Tunnel the aque- 
duct branched southward seventy-one miles to San Vicente 
Reservoir behind San Diego. Like the Owens River aqueduct, it 
was a gravity conduit. Except for its steep siphons at the canyon 
crossings, it was built entirely as an enclosed concrete pipe. 

Along its route, which traversed some of the most rugged 
mountain country in Southern California, men and machines 
were working furiously through 1946 to bring San Diego her 
rescue supply of water. Drought had struck the Southwest on 
schedule, and San Diego's reservoirs were only half full by the 
summer of '46. Toward the end of construction in the fall of 
1947 it was plain that the aqueduct builders were racing against a 
water famine. Some of the city's key reservoirs were nearly dry; 
one of them held only four per cent of capacity. Already J. L. 
Burkholder, superintendent of the newly formed San Diego 
County Water Authority, was hurriedly extending feeder lines to 
outlying districts. 

Finally on November 26, 1947, the first aqueduct water 
splashed into San Vicente Reservoir. Burkholder's men turned 
it into the mains as fast as it arrived. One nearby town which 
was not yet connected to the reservoir was given a share of San 
Diego's domestic supply through local mains to meet a desperate 
emergency. San Diego scrupulously reimbursed herself with the 
same amount of Colorado water from the aqueduct. 

The sparkling new supply had barely come in time to save San 
Diego County from one of the worst droughts in California his- 
tory during the winter of 1947-48. It was estimated that by the 
following spring the reservoir serving Chula Vista and National 
City would have been absolutely dry without that rescuing Colo- 
rado water. There would have been a mass exodus from San 
Diego County, in contrast to the unexpected influx that had 
hastened the water crisis. 

From the moment of its completion the San Diego Aqueduct 
has operated at full capacity even at times over its rated capac- 
ity. Some of the nearby communities, growing at an even faster 
rate than San Diego, have been allowed an emergency use of 
water over their allotted quota to meet a continuing water crisis. 
Even with the Colorado water the cities of the southern coast 


resorted to rationing during the merciless drought of 1948. Citi- 
zens were exhorted against watering lawns, washing cars, and 
taking "unnecessary baths." In one threatened community there 
were even restrictions on the number of toilet flushings per day. 

Since the '48 drought the Colorado Aqueduct has been unable 
to keep the San Diego area at a safe distance from water famine. 
In 1949 its reservoirs held twenty-two per cent of capacity 
scarcely a year's supply. 

"Once we get the reservoirs filled," says J. L. Burkholder, San 
Diego's harassed water manager, "we'll be more or less on Easy 
Street. Otherwise we're in a position to get our tail in the gate." 

San Diego's main hope now, its water men agree, is a "second 
barrel" to the aqueduct. Owing to the emergency, naval authori- 
ties had not attempted to build the first tube to full capacity, and 
already a parallel conduit is needed for the rest of San Diego's 
share of Colorado water. Adding to the difficulty has been the 
pressure of other communities notably Escondido to join the 
County Water Authority and gain a secure supply for thirsty 

It was much the same story throughout Southern California in 
cities outside the Metropolitan Water District. Facing the driest 
year in California history, communities depending on local 
sources were desperate for water by the spring of 1948. Water 
levels were sinking at the rate of four to six feet a year, while 
those in the Long Beach region had dropped as much as seventy- 
five feet below sea level, allowing salt water to seep into the wells. 
Already the area of underground ocean water had spread two 
miles inland from the shore, and was advancing at the rate of 
several hundred feet a year. In San Bernardino Valley the water 
table had almost returned to its record low mark of the mid- 
thirties. Its water men began talking of joining the Metropolitan 
Water District, from which two of its cities San Bernardino 
and Colton had withdrawn back in 1 93 1 . 

Throughout the Southland, in fact, a clamor was arising from 
communities seeking membership in the Metropolitan District 
and the use of its bountiful supply of Colorado water. With this 
appeal many of the district directors were sympathetic. The aque- 
duct, after all, was bringing in only about fourteen per cent of 


its capacity flow and was consequently still operating at a loss. 
Why not admit these distressed communities and put the district 
on a paying basis? 

To this proposal the representatives from Los Angeles, com- 
prising one half the district's board, gave an emphatic "No!" 
Their city's own Owens River aqueduct was now being operated 
to capacity. From now on its booming growth must depend on 
Colorado water. The Mexican treaty and the Arizona controversy 
had endangered enough of that without voluntarily giving away 
more of it to outside cities. 

But some of the other member cities were inclined to be more 
generous with the unused remainder. Nineteen cities had already 
been let into the district in addition to the original nine, and they 
could see no reason to halt the process now in the midst of a 
water emergency. Here was the making of another first-rate 
Southern California water wrangle. 

The issue was not long in reaching a crisis. Near the end of 
the 1 948 drought year the large communities of Pomona and On- 
tario applied for membership in the M.W.D. Los Angeles, hold- 
ing fifty per cent of the voting strength, blocked action. Residents 
of Pomona and Ontario were furious at the rebuff. All the old 
resentments against "big bully" Los Angeles were aroused, and 
Southern California sentiment sided with the water-famished 

Then Pomona made a flank attack. Her assemblyman intro- 
duced a bill in the state legislature to change the voting strength 
in the board of directors of the M.W.D. Instead of having fifty 
per cent of the directors, Los Angeles would have forty-one per 
cent. That, of course, would take care of its objections; Pomona 
and Ontario could proceed to get their memberships and their 
water. Late in April 1949, before Los Angeles was aware of the 
danger, the Assembly committee unanimously passed a favorable 
recommendation on the bill. 

At this point Los Angeles suddenly roused its familiar fighting 
spirit where water was concerned. An emergency session of the 
City Council was called, and a delegation was rushed to Sacra- 
mento to oppose the scheme. 

"Do you think it is fair," one Los Angeles assemblyman asked 
a colleague, "to give the taxpayers of Los Angeles, who pay about 


sixty-five per cent of the cost, only twelve votes out of twenty- 

At the same time the Metropolitan Water District directors, 
resenting this outside interference, joined Los Angeles in opposi- 
tion. Within a few days Pomona's assemblyman was offering com- 
promises, and by May 19 he had shelved the bill. Los Angeles 
had won its fight to retain half the district votes and was ready 
to discuss Pomona's plight once more. In July, after heads had 
cooled, the M.W.D. board voted to consider applications of out- 
side communities once more. By the year's end the Pomona region 
was making ready to apply for the second time. The emergency 
was over, temporarily, but Pomona was still looking far enough 
ahead to stake her future on the Colorado. 

Although the M.W.D. had been reluctant on the membership 
question, it had been quick to allow outside communities tempo- 
rary use of water in the drought crisis. La Crescenta, Arcadia, 
and other cities received an emergency supply in their mains to 
prevent actual famine at the faucets. Even the farmers of Santa 
Ana Valley, their water levels dropping precariously, secured a 
block of water with which to replenish the ground. Beginning in 
July 1949, the aqueduct turned into the Santa Ana River a 
sparkling flow of Rocky Mountain snow water, brought three 
hundred miles from the Colorado for the green crops of Orange 

The M.W.D. made it plain, however, that these uses were only 
temporary, brought on by an extreme crisis in California's water 
supply. District cities could not play fast and loose with their own 
Colorado rights as long as the Arizona controversy raged. For 
California that drought nightmare of 1945-49 pointed a hard 
lesson. Arizona might need water from the Colorado main stream, 
but so did Southern California's cities. They could not afford to 
relax their fight against a threat to some of the very water their 
aqueducts had been built to carry. 

Beginning in June 1947, Arizona pressed her Bridge Canyon 
project before the Senate subcommittee on irrigation, chair- 
manned by a familiar friend of the Mexican treaty fight Eugene 
D. Millikin of Colorado. With an adroitness that would have 
done credit to California's old Boulder Dam team, Arizona 


launched her case with an impressive parade of witnesses : water 
lawyers and engineers from the Rocky Mountain states, dirt 
farmers from the parched Gila Valley, Reclamation Bureau offi- 
cials, and even two full-blooded Pima Indians, whose statements 
were among the most effective of all. On June 27, Senator Ernest 
McFarland summed up Arizona's plea. Her people, he said, had 
to know now whether they could expect their economy to be 
preserved by Colorado water. 

Three days later, while a parade of California witnesses fought 
the bill, McFarland played another of Arizona's trump cards. 
California, he knew, was not yet using all of her water equity in 
the Colorado. Besides the added water of the Metropolitan Dis- 
trict, there were at least 1,000,000 acre-feet not yet being used 
for agriculture through the All-American Canal. Most of this was 
destined for Imperial Valley's famed East Mesa, for which old 
Mark Rose had first begun the agitation which had led to the 
All-American Canal and Hoover Dam. As long as the water was 
disputed, thought the Arizonans, this East Mesa land was fair 
game. Senator McFarland revealed Arizona's new tactic during 
the testimony of Raymond Matthew, tall and rugged chief engi- 
neer of California's Colorado River Board. How much more new 
land, McFarland asked Matthew, did California hope to put in 
crops by the All-American Canal? 

"That would be," returned the engineer, "about 100,000 acres 
in the Coachella Valley and 300,000 acres in the Imperial 

"All that California has to do," pursued the Arizonan, "is not 
put in 300,000 acres of new land and they will have all the water 
they need, won't they?" 

"It so happens that the Imperial Valley lands have been one 
of the first water rights on the river, dating back to the nineties." 

"But not these new lands?" 

"These are also incorporated in the original water filings made 
for that project back in the nineties." 

"Have these lands ever been irrigated?" demanded McFar- 

"They haven't been irrigated," Matthew admitted. He tried to 
explain that their water right had been maintained by "due dili- 
gence" since the beginning, but McFarland refused to argue. 


"Maybe we have differences as to rights," he returned. "We 
feel Arizona has some rights on the river too." 

After that Arizona would not let up on those East Mesa lands. 
If California feared a shortening of her water rights by Arizona's 
project, let her simply forgo the cultivation of that 300,000 acres. 
Californians shot back that even if Arizona was able to cut down 
California's water the coastal cities would suffer as much as the 
East Mesa. According to their state's Seven Party Water Agree- 
ment, half of the Metropolitan District's water was in the last 
priority. Very well, countered Arizona. Change the water agree- 

Within a few months California felt the full impact of Ari- 
zona's pressure on the East Mesa. In March 1948 the Reclama- 
tion Bureau turned in a report of "repayment feasibility" on East 
Mesa lands, rejecting them as not "practical of irrigation and 
reclamation." A year later Interior Secretary Julius Krug wrote 
the Imperial Irrigation District, refusing to allow irrigation of 
the East Mesa lands through the All- American Canal and offer- 
ing to pare down Imperial's water contract "into accord with the 
facts as we know them today. . . ." The claim was that the soil 
contained too much alkali for cultivation a direct reminder of 
the government's damaging soil report on Imperial Valley in 
1902. Yet the I.I.D. has conducted a test farm and is today 
growing successful crops where the government says there is too 
much alkali. Old Mark Rose, whose holdings on the East Mesa 
had provided the seed of the whole Boulder Canyon Project, 
would have enjoyed the irony of it. 

At the same time that Secretary Krug was denying the feasi- 
bility of cultivating lands by gravity from a canal already built, 
he sent Congress a final report in September 1948, urging the 
feasibility of the Central Arizona Project, which requires an ex- 
penditure of $738,000,000, a pump lift of nearly a thousand feet, 
and a subsidy from power interest of $2.00 for every acre-foot of 
water delivered. By March 1949, Senator McFarland was de- 
claring, on the strength of the Interior Department's rejection of 
the East Mesa, that there was plenty of water for Arizona's 

Californians were aghast. It looked to them as though the 
Interior Department meant to find enough water for Arizona by 

the simple process of subtracting it from California. Her water 
fighters were now feeling the blast of Arizona's offensive. 

California was not without a strategy of her own. On the last 
day of the Bridge Canyon hearings in July 1947 her congressmen 
fired the opening shot in a bold counterattack. Bills were intro- 
duced, authorizing a suit in the Supreme Court to settle forever 
the meaning of disputed wordage in the laws of the river, and to 
give a final determination of water rights for California and 
Arizona. It was a settlement which Arizona had already rejected, 
but which California, having seen her slice of the Colorado nar- 
rowing year by year, looked to as a last refuge. Unless Congress, 
said her water men, would authorize money for a project with a 
questionable water supply, there must be a final decision on con- 
flicting water claims. 

But after extensive hearings on the Supreme Court bill in both 
houses, the U. S. Justice Department stepped in, opposed Cali- 
fornia's request, and helped Arizona block action on the Supreme 
Court measure. There the deadlock stood by the end of the 1 948 
congressional session. Each side had taken its turn in the congres- 
sional arena and had been stopped. But Arizona had vastly im- 
proved her strategic position and was in no mood for compro- 
mise. She now had both engineering and legal departments of the 
Administration bolstering her cause. In general the upper states, 
tied closely with Arizona since the bitter Mexican treaty contro- 
versy, were also supporting her. 

Moreover, as a staunch Democratic state, Arizona had been 
able to build up long-standing seniorities for her Washington 
delegates. As soon as the Democrats regained control of Congress 
in the 1948 election Arizona's members took over some of the 
most strategic committee chairmanships in both houses. John R. 
Murdock, one of Arizona's two members of the House of Repre- 
sentatives, headed the key Irrigation and Reclamation Subcom- 
mittee, which conducts hearings on the Arizona project. In the 
Senate, Ernest McFarland held a place on the all-important 
Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, which heard both the 
Arizona and California bills. 

But Arizona's real hole card was smooth, persuasive old Carl 
Hayden, senator since 1928 and a member of Congress since 


Arizona's statehood in 1912. He headed the powerful Senate 
Rules Committee, which determines what bills will reach the 
floor for debate, and when. Not long afterward he became acting 
chairman, during the illness of eighty-year-old Kenneth McKel- 
lar of Tennessee, of the Appropriations Committee, the postern 
gate of financial backing for federal projects. With this formida- 
ble line-up, Arizona was in a position not only to speed along her 
own project bills but to trade legislative favors with other state 
delegations. She could scarcely be persuaded to tarry with Cali- 
fornia in a legal argument over Colorado water rights. On the 
contrary, she rolled up her sleeves for a busy year in 1949. 

At this point, to Arizona's complete shock, the White House 
did the unexpected. From President Truman's Director of the 
Budget, Frank Pace, Jr., came a sharp letter on February 7 to 
Interior Secretary Julius Krug. Reclamation reports, he said, re- 
vealed that water rights for the Arizona project were in question. 
If California's contentions were correct, no dependable supply 
would be available. The Agriculture Department and Federal 
Power Commission had also criticized the project's feasibility. 
For these reasons, he concluded, President Truman "has in- 
structed me to advise you that authorization of the improvement 
is not in accord with his program at this time and that he again 
recommends that measures be taken to bring about prompt settle- 
ment of the water rights controversy." 

California was jubilant. Immediately Senators Hayden and 
McFarland of Arizona descended on the White House in un- 
concealed alarm. At first Harry Truman stood firm. Ten days 
later he announced that it was still undecided whether or not the 
project was "in accord with his program." This time it was Cali- 
fornia's turn to invade the White House. To her congressmen the 
President gave assurance that he had not reversed his position 
and that there was no confusion on the issue. Obviously the Chief 
Executive had scalded his fingers in the hot Colorado River. His 
most tangible commitment was that the situation was very serious 
and that he was trying to find a way to provide more water for 
both states. 

The Californians might have gone away more confused than 
ever if they had not detected a familiar ring in that last remark. 
Scarcely two weeks before, the Undersecretary of the Interior, 


Oscar Chapman, had told a Senate committee that California 
might be able to get an additional supply by distilling sea water, 
and that his department would like to investigate that possibility. 
All at once Arizona and her friends snatched at the straw. Let 
California, they shouted, get her water out of the sea and quit 
hogging the Colorado. 

Within a month Chapman's sea-water theory had stirred a 
hotter battle than ever. Californians were exclaiming that such an 
expensive process was ridiculous, that it had only been proposed 
as a bait to lure away opposition to Arizona's project. Arizonans 
were retorting that California minimized the sea- water idea be- 
cause it weakened her dependence on the Colorado. In March 
1949 a bill was introduced authorizing research on "practical 
means of producing from sea or other saline waters, water suit- 
able for beneficial consumptive use." By this time Sheridan 
Downey of California had a counterproposal. Very well, he said, 
let Arizona postpone her Bridge Canyon project while the sea- 
water proposition was tested. When the Arizona proponents 
refused, Downey pointed out that they were willing to lead Cali- 
fornia away from the Colorado with a will-o'-the-wisp while 
Arizona made off with the water. After that there was less talk of 
California slaking her thirst from the Pacific Ocean. 

Throughout March 1 949 the Colorado controversy was in vio- 
lent eruption on Capitol Hill. By the end of the month, when 
hearings opened on the Arizona project in the House, tempers 
were bristling on both sides. As the first session broke up, a Los 
Angeles engineer took hot issue with Senator McFarland in the 
corridor outside the committee room. When the Californian re- 
ferred to "you damn fools" McFarland suddenly drew back his 
fist. The engineer quickly put his hand on McFarland's arm and 
apologized. The senator brushed him off and walked resolutely 
away. He later received a written apology, and replied that the 
incident was forgotten. But it was plain now that the opposing 
sides were fighting mad. It was time for someone to suggest a 

On June 8 a fresh approach was suggested by the newest mem- 
ber of the Senate committee, Robert S. Kerr of Oklahoma. Let 
California, he said, have her court settlement and Arizona her 
Bridge Canyon power dam, but make the pump lift and other 


irrigation features of the project dependent on the outcome of 
the Supreme Court suit. 

The idea took hold immediately. Arizona accepted it with the 
conviction that she would thus have an equal status with Cali- 
fornia in appearing before the Supreme Court. The committee's 
leading upper-basin senators seized it and framed the amendment 

California, however, held back. This looked like another wedge 
driven into her water rights before the final settlement. Once the 
Bridge Canyon project had passed Congress, Arizona would have 
a powerful new lever. It was an old characteristic of water law 
that after an irrigation project was established the courts found 
it exceedingly difficult to take water away from it. The question 
of conflicting interpretations in the law of the river required sober 
and detached judgment; it was not the kind to be determined 
under the pressure of a "rescue" project for Arizona. Beneath 
these arguments was probably also the fear that, if project and 
suit were both authorized, Arizona might seek an injunction to 
prevent any added use of the disputed water by California during 
the court case. 

But when the Senate Interior Committee adopted the amend- 
ment and approved the Central Arizona bill on July i, Cali- 
fornia's partisans learned of a more fundamental objection. Al- 
most lost inside the final draft of the long Arizona bill was a 
significant change. At first the Kerr amendment had provided 
that no money would be spent on the irrigation features while the 
suit was pending, "nor thereafter unless the Supreme Court . . . 
shall have held that water is available therefore. . . ." But this 
last phrase had been omitted from the final draft sent to the 
Senate floor. 

Here was evidently an astounding joker in the bill one which 
seemed to kill the whole purpose of Kerr's compromise. With this 
key omission a Supreme Court suit must be only a mockery. After 
it was over, regardless of the outcome, Arizona would still get 
her project. California did nothing but protest, however, until 
the Los Angeles Times boldly carried the issue to Arizona late in 
January 1950. Into the governor's office at Phoenix strode the 
Times' 's top water expert, Ed Ainsworth. He proceeded to show 
Governor Dan E. Garvey copies of the Arizona bill which re- 


vealed beyond a doubt that the key phrase had been eliminated. 
The Arizona official was astounded. He had believed the bill 
offered "a genuine Supreme Court test," and would do what he 
could to clear up the language and make it so. The Times ran a 
jubilant story of the interview, hoping that if the phrase could be 
restored and the bill made acceptable to Galifornians "the long 
fight would be over." 

But though Governor Garvey soon journeyed to Washington 
he encountered a contrary view from his own Arizona colleagues. 
The deleted phrase was one which would hem in the Arizona 
project and, by preventing it from becoming an actual threat to 
California, leave the Supreme Court once more with no contro- 
versy to determine. Certainly if the Supreme Court found no 
water available for the project, said the Arizonans, Congress 
would automatically withhold its appropriations. Yet while it 
was claimed that California's lawyers understood this necessity, 
they were still earnestly protesting the omission. 

In this shape the Arizona bill came before the Senate for de- 
bate early in February. California Senators Sheridan Downey 
and William Knowland promptly opened fire. Also wheeled into 
position were California's other forces: the lawyers and engineers 
comprising her "water lobby"; the publicity machinery of her 
Colorado River Association; and her letter- writing citizens, who 
implored relatives and friends in the East to pressurize their own 
congressional delegations. 

The heaviest broadsides were aimed at the Central Arizona 
scheme itself labeled by Californians as the "Nation's most fan- 
tastic project." Since the government's interest on its power in- 
vestment would be turned over to help pay out the irrigation 
investment, claimed California, the program was actually a huge 
"gift" from the nation's taxpayers. Arizona countered that other 
projects, including California's Central Valley plan, were being 
worked out on the same basis. California pointed out that these 
other projects did not require an extension of repayment time 
from fifty to eighty years, as did the Bridge Canyon project. Ari- 
zona replied that all the West's "easy" reclamation opportunities 
were now developed, and that henceforth the requirements 
would have to be liberalized. 

The whole storm and tumult of debate was almost superfluous. 


While McFarland did most of Arizona's talking on the floor, 
smooth old Carl Hayden was completing several years of deadly 
political maneuvering behind the scenes. When the vote came on 
February 2 1 , California moved to send the bill back to committee, 
but was refused by almost a 2-1 vote. When she began offering 
key amendments they were steadily beaten down by the same 
margin. Then the bill itself passed by a whopping vote of 55-28. 
Administration Democrats, Southern Democrats, and even a third 
of the Republicans had supported Arizona. 

Jubilation reigned that night in Phoenix. In Los Angeles and 
other California communities ordinary citizens suddenly realized 
what their water men had been warning them about for months 
that their water foundations stood in absolute peril. Overnight 
California changed places with Arizona as the "underdog" of the 
Colorado fight. 

Both sides moved resolutely to a final clash in the House, 
where the Arizona measure was still bottled up in committee. The 
Californians now looked to a superiority in numbers as a last 
hope in the weary twenty-seven-year battle. Arizona, elated by 
the Senate victory, turned to pursue new strategy in the final 
drive for her project. 

"It doesn't make any difference what it costs," claimed the 
president of the Central Arizona Project Association. "If we don't 
get water here, we will go the way of Carthage. . . ." 

"All we want," said Governor Earl Warren of California, "is 
our day in court." 

Through it all the Colorado flowed silently on into the Gulf 
of California, causing as much trouble tamed as it had when free. 

15: The Water Quest 

It has long been plain to water men that no matter how the 
California-Arizona controversy is resolved it can provide no final 
answer to the Southwest's water dilemma. For more than twenty 
years they have known that there is not enough water in the 
Colorado for all the arable land within its reach. This is, of 
course, the hard fact which has created and maintained the bitter 

Colorado feud. To the cities of Southern California a Supreme 
Court decision will actually be a beginning a definition of avail- 
able supply that will be a starting point for still further water 

Across Southern California are myriad cities which will never 
see Colorado water. Without an outside source they not only 
must stop growing but will be unable to fill out their population 
limit in the wet years without fearing a water famine in the dry. 
To many of these cities the postwar drought gave final notice that 
the end of expansion had been reached. 

For members of the Metropolitan Water District that point is 
deferred to a future date to about 1968 for the city of Los 
Angeles. Without taking into consideration the Arizona dispute, 
that is the estimate of engineers. If California is defeated, 
M.W.D. officials figure they will lose at least half their contracted 
supply. Unless the entire framework of water priorities and fed- 
eral contracts can be upset, to the distress of prior agricultural 
users, Los Angeles and its neighbors will need a new source much 
earlier than 1968. Even that date, as one Los Angeles water 
official says, "is practically tomorrow." 

From its inception to its completion the Owens River aqueduct 
took nine years. The Colorado Aqueduct took seventeen. It may 
be expected that any new aqueduct, which must necessarily go 
hundreds of miles farther afield than either of these, will take 
even longer. Thus it does not take much arithmetic to conclude 
that the cities of Southern California are already growing on 
borrowed time. 

To the men who must search the map for other sources the 
next leap for water is almost incalculable. Beyond the Colorado 
there is no river of consequence in the Southwest that is not 
already pre-empted. This cold fact has forced the water seekers 
to give full rein to the imagination. One of the desperate possi- 
bilities has been the Columbia. 

Rising in the snow-covered ranges of Canada and the North- 
western states, the Columbia River is second in America in 
volume of flow. It carries the tidy quantity of 160,000,000 acre- 
feet annually nearly ten times the capacity of the Colorado, and 
more than all other Western rivers combined. Its monumental 
Grand Coulee Dam and other developments have not begun to 


use its flow; Reclamation men say all the most remote projects in 
the Pacific Northwest could not use it all. The Columbia's 
volume could water twice the 20,000,000 acres now under irriga- 
tion in the United States. 

Still, the people of the Northwest, like all Westerners, are quite 
aware that water is the foundation of development. In 1947, 
when a California congressman proposed a federal investigation 
of the chances of diverting Columbia water to California, Wash- 
ington and Oregon rose in alarm. The Reclamation Bureau has 
been quick to assure them that nothing but surplus water, beyond 
that necessary to serve all possible Northwest projects, could be 
diverted. To water-hungry Californians this leaves more water 
than they have ever used before. Such a diversion, however, 
would be fabulously expensive, and for this reason the proposal 
has not gone beyond the "talking stage." 

In the fall of 1949 the Reclamation Bureau prepared to open 
serious investigation on a grand scheme to divert Columbia water 
below Bonneville Dam not only to California, but to arable lands 
awaiting development in other Western states outside the Co- 
lumbia basin. Undoubtedly this would be the keystone of a vast 
plan, cherished by Reclamation officials, eventually to distribute 
the West's water onto all its parched deserts by an amazing inte- 
gration of streams and watersheds. Whether this program would 
come in conflict with those of California cities who may someday 
look to the Columbia is still a remote question. But neither faction 
has been known for its backwardness where water is concerned. 
Even now the Reclamation Bureau is scrapping with the Army 
engineers for jurisdiction over water projects, with groups who 
oppose strict application of its i Go-acre limitation on project 
farms, and with those who object to its interference and regula- 
tions in state irrigation affairs. Should this powerful government 
arm clash with the veteran water fighters of Southern California, 
the West may see a water war to dwarf all others. 

A less formidable scheme than a Columbia diversion, but one 
still fantastic by any existing comparisons, is a supply for South- 
ern California cities from the state's water-laden northwest cor- 
ner. Here in the gushing, snow-fed rivers of the Eel, the Trinity, 
the Klamath, undreamed quantities of water are running unused 
to the sea. In this corner of California are some two per cent of 

the people and over thirty-seven per cent of the water. For South- 
ern California, which has sixty per cent of the people and under 
two per cent of the water, a little redistribution would be 

To bring such a supply to their faucets would require an aque- 
duct some six hundred miles long. Whether the coast route or the 
San Joaquin route would be more feasible is probably still un- 
determined, but the first would require a much longer conduit 
and the second some huge tunnels and pump lifts. The great 
advantage of the proposal, however, is that California would 
not have to go across state lines for water agreements and rights 
of way unless, of course, the project included the Rogue and 
Umpqua rivers of southern Oregon. 

Short of such projects as these, which are still remote visions 
of the future, Los Angeles and its neighbors must turn to unusual 
local methods of water development. The Los Angeles Daily 
News has had much to say about reclaimed sewer water, which 
could be chemically treated and purified for re-use. For obvious 
reasons the idea has stirred little enthusiasm. But man's squeam- 
ishness over the character of the water he uses has usually been 
in direct ratio to its abundance. Given another water famine or 
two, Southern Calif ornians may look upon reclaimed sewer water 
with less disdain. At least it seems feasible to turn it back into the 
soil to replenish the underground irrigation water in the Los 
Angeles basin. 

In the summer of 1948, Southern Calif ornians received heart- 
warming water news. Both in private experiments in Arizona and 
in government tests in Ohio, scientists had been able to make rain 
artificially. Airplanes had scattered tiny pellets of dry ice into the 
tops of rain clouds, causing precipitation. 

The thought that man was making headway in harnessing the 
elements gave a strange exhilaration to Southwesterners. Their 
lives, and the history of their region, had largely been shaped by 
a struggle with nature's inflictions. They could not help recalling 
with gusto the words of Mark Twain: "Everybody talks about the 
weather, but nobody does anything about it." At last man was 
doing something about it, opening up a whole new frontier in 
the conquest of the earth. 

Of course rain making, in a pseudo-scientific way, was familiar 


enough to Californians. Southwestern Indians had their tribal 
ceremonies and incantations which they claimed could open up 
the clouds. Professional contractors, notably Hatfield the Rain- 
maker, made a living at it for decades, setting up their chemical 
tanks and sending the right kind of smoke into the right kind of 
clouds. Nobody was ever sure whether they were accomplished 
technicians or just skilled gamblers. 

But today rain making is a respectable science. Leading experi- 
menter is Dr. Irving Krick, who evolved a new system of long- 
range weather forecasting while a professor at California Insti- 
tute of Technology, and who gained fame as General Dwight 
Eisenhower's chief weather adviser in the 1944 Normandy inva- 
sion. His unorthodox methods of making practical use of still 
unproved theories has raised the eyebrows of many a distin- 
guished meteorologist. Nevertheless, Irving Krick is a scientist 
who gets things done, and his work in artificial rain making has 
had real results in tested areas of the Southwest. 

In the summer of 1948 he conducted twenty-seven air flights 
over the Salt and Verde valleys of central Arizona, dropping 
from 150 to 300 pounds of ice particles at a time. The clouds 
thus "seeded" performed satisfactorily. Local reservoirs gained 
1 2,000 acre-feet more than the average runoff for the period. Not 
all of that, admitted the rain makers, was their own doing, but 
in a year that was one of the driest on record elsewhere it was a 
significant testimony. Financially the venture was also promising. 
Water that was worth $14 an acre-foot in Arizona had been pro- 
vided at a cost of $2.50 an acre-foot. Even the most skeptical 
water men began to concede that Dr. Krick was on the right 

By late December 1949 the Southwest heard of his latest 
advance. Mobile "smoke dispensers," blowing vaporized silver 
iodide into the air, had made rain from the ground, without need 
of airplanes and dry ice. The rain-making units, which were each 
small enough to be moved by two large wheelbarrows, were 
placed on the windward side of a hill. Once started, the blower 
could send no less than six quadrillion particles of iodide into the 
air every minute, each one capable of precipitating one raindrop. 
A rising cone of iodide "smoke" could be carried along by the 
wind as far away as thirty miles and was able to bring rain over 


an area of about 240 square miles. In some of the tests, precipita- 
tion was about four times greater than outside the effective cone. 

"The additional rain/' concluded Dr. Krick, "could not have 
been due to other causes." 

To many an old-timer the whole business sounded familiarly 
like Hatfield's rain-making machines. But apparently this was no 
random experiment. Krick's tests were based on scientific calcula- 
tion. Moreover, the cost was almost negligible something like 
ten cents an acre-foot. Given fifteen of the dispensers, said Krick, 
he could double the runoff in the Salt and Verde valleys from 
1,000,000 to 2,000,000 acre-feet a year. 

This was the kind of talk to make a thirsty Southwest come 
alive with interest. If true, it meant a revolution in agriculture, 
in economics, in the whole civilization of the arid country. A 
committee of California congressmen, formed especially to study 
rain making, promptly recommended hiring Dr. Krick and other 
experts to conduct snow-making tests in the Sierras. Sheridan 
Downey introduced an amendment to a Senate bill calling for a 
government rain-making program. 

Other Galifornians undoubtedly decided that here was an 
effective answer to one of Arizona's gibes in the Colorado fight. 
She had said that California could use water from the sea. Very 
well, let Arizona get her water from the rain makers. At the same 
time the discoveries raised a moral question. Who was to decide 
where a rain cloud should shed its precious burden? Could not 
the people in the next valley, or the next state, object that the 
rain would have fallen naturally on their lands if the rain makers 
had not interfered? To make sure, one Nevada rancher had 
already gone to state officials and secured a legal claim to "full 
possession and rights thereof" on water in clouds over his prop- 
erty. The whole question might have been a laughing matter if 
Westerners did not take their water dead seriously. It was clear 
that a lot of trouble could be aroused if this rain making got out 
of hand, and that state legislatures might find themselves regu- 
lating the water not only under the earth but in the heavens 

While such methods of water development have tremendous 
implications, they must still depend on basic weather conditions. 
Krick's dispensers cannot make rain without clouds. Given the 


right conditions, they merely stimulate them to give rain in the 
right places and more generously. But in years of drought, when 
Southwestern skies may be cloudless for months at a time, water 
users could only fall back heavily on their stored reserves. Cer- 
tainly any system linked to the vagaries of Western weather has 
its limitations. 

At the other extreme is the plan of distilling sea water for use 
by California's coastal cities. Once such a scheme proves feasible, 
the source is limitless. Not only are the five oceans of the world 
available, but in the last analysis there can be no actual con- 
sumptive use of a commodity that will eventually find its way 
back to the source. A cheap method of freshening sea water 
would be a universal solution to the world's water problem at 
least in the populated coastal areas. 

There is, of course, no mystery in the basic processes. Sea 
water can be freshened by chemical action or by distillation. 
During the war sheer necessity forced the U. S. Navy to perfect 
a method of purifying water on shipboard and on the myriad 
small Pacific islands having no drinking water of their own. The 
biggest problem was not cost but fuel. Unless the volume of fresh 
water manufactured far exceeded the amount of fuel necessary 
in the distilling process, the ships might as well continue to trans- 
port water from regular sources. It was not long before the key 
to the riddle was discovered. Distilling equipment was insulated, 
so that the steam itself generated most of the heat. Water-fresh- 
ening units were developed to produce 100,000 gallons a day, or 
as much as 24 gallons of water for every gallon of Diesel fuel. 

Since then the process has been further improved. Between 
150 and 200 gallons can now be made for every gallon of fuel, at 
a cost equivalent to about $187 an acre-foot. Whether the con- 
tinued improvement of this process could successfully provide a 
supply for a metropolis of several million people is still doubtful. 
In 1949 a Los Angeles County official suggested that the state 
legislature offer $1,000,000 reward for a practical method of 
mass-producing fresh water from the ocean at a cost of $150 an 
acre-foot. Immediately Los Angeles was deluged with helpful 
suggestions, both from engineers and from well-meaning ama- 
teurs. So far the practical aspects remain unsolved. The closest 
approach, according to the Los Angeles Water Department, was 


in the mind of an unknown young man with a German accent 
who walked into the office one day and outlined enough of his 
plan to arouse serious interest. He left agreeing to come back 
with more details, but the water seekers have waited in vain for 
him to return. 

Meanwhile the Interior Department intends to strike directly 
at the problem. Congress has been asked for an appropriation of 
$50,000,000 with which to seek out a practical formula and then 
apply it in a "pilot plant." From this experimentation the high 
cost of distilling sea water might be reduced to practical dimen- 
sions. Certainly the prospect of atomic fuel within the next few 
years would provide the key to one of the epochal advances in 
man's conquest of his environment. For it is a cheap source of 
fuel and heat that is needed to make a final denial of Coleridge's 
lament in The Ancient Manner: 

Water, water, everywhere, 
Nor any drop to drink. 

But even while Western water users have talked and argued 
about distilling sea water, the 1948 drought forced a real use of 
it in another way. On the thirsty island of Santa Catalina, off 
the Southern California coast, the resort town of Avalon pumped 
sea water for sewage, street cleaning, and fire protection. Relieved 
from supplying these heavy uses, the island's fresh-water supply 
was made adequate for household uses of drinking, cooking, and 
bathing. It left room for the notion that coastal cities could cut 
their consumption of fresh water by using salt water wherever 
possible. Perhaps it would require two separate water main sys- 
tems, or at least the lining of sewer pipes with a non-corrosive 
substance. The process would be expensive, but whether more 
expensive than a long-distance aqueduct would at least be worth 
investigation. Here was a use of sea water which had practical 
possibilities; yet it could only supplement the fresh water still 
needed for household faucets and most industrial uses. 

It is plain, however, that not even distilled sea water, because 
of its prohibitive expense, offers hope to Western agricultural 
users, except as it might eliminate the competition of cities for 
inland supplies. Across much of the Southwest there are vast 
acreages which may never see the plow. Existing runoff in the 


Colorado River simply cannot supply all the arable land in its 
basin. Even if Arizona wins her fight for the Bridge Canyon 
project there will be at least 1,000,000 acres of fertile land 
within its boundaries without any hope of cultivation. West of 
California's Palo Verde district lies Chuckwalla Valley, where 
45,000 acres could be irrigated with a pump lift of only 1 23 feet 
much less than that of Arizona's Gila project and about one 
eighth the pump height of its Central Plateau scheme. Cali- 
fornians have long ago condemned it, just as San Diegans have 
resigned themselves to the perpetual disuse of 280,000 acres out 
of their county's 495,000 acres of fertile land. There is simply not 
enough water. 

Across the West the limitation of water is equally pressing. In 
the San Joaquin Valley of California farmers depending on un- 
derground water have found levels dropping an average of sixty 
feet in the past twenty-five years. As wells are sunk deeper the 
pumping expense inches closer to the break-even point. At 
Coalinga the wells struck salt deposits in 1948, and drinking 
water for the town had to be delivered forty-five miles by tank 

In the Texas Panhandle the number of wells has jumped from 
300 to 10,000 since 1934, and the water table has dropped more 
than forty feet. Then in 1947 a local crop boom caused farmers 
to pump out fifteen times as much water as normally flowed into 
the ground, driving the shortage to emergency proportions. Near 
Fort Worth one oil town's water supply failed completely, and a 
barrel of drinking water took on more value than a barrel of oil* 
Across the whole state dams have been rushed to completion 
since the war to conserve every drop of moisture that falls on the 
thirsty land. 

New industrial development in northern Utah, and especially 
the great steel mill at Geneva, have imposed a noticeable burden 
on that state's limited water resources. In Colorado a gigantic 
project has just been completed to carry Colorado River water 
through the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River, 
where it will "rescue" 1000 square miles of farmlands which have 
previously suffered from an unstable supply. But in the western 
part of the great Missouri basin in the plains regions of Wyo- 
ming and Montana there seems to be little opportunity to make 

the kind of diversions which would relieve long-standing water 

On the lower Colorado the growing water crisis has increased 
strife between Arizona and California, driving them further than 
ever from agreement. But in other areas the prospect of dimin- 
ishing supply has forced warring states into final accord. After 
years of dissension Texas and New Mexico have finally concluded 
a pact on the waters of the Pecos River. The fifty-year dispute 
between Colorado and Kansas over the Arkansas River is now 
nearing a settlement. Since the war the river's yield has been 
strengthened by the giant new John Martin Reservoir in south- 
eastern Colorado. But when the states continued to quarrel the 
Army officer in charge served notice that unless peace was re- 
stored he would open the gates and let the irrigation water run 
to waste downstream. Since then the states have found they 
could agree on temporary divisions, and are now working on a 
permanent compact. 

The states in the upper basin of the Colorado have largely 
reached the point where no further development can take place 
without big new government irrigation projects. After the war 
the Reclamation Bureau notified them that it could sponsor no 
more water developments until they agreed on a division of their 
share of the Colorado. They lost little time in opening negotia- 
tions ; by March 1 948, after repeated conferences, agreement was 
reached. By its terms Colorado is to get 51.75 per cent of the 
river's runoff, Utah 23 per cent, Wyoming 14, and New Mexico 
11.25. Arizona, which has a small stake in the upper basin, re- 
ceives a flat 50,000 acre-feet. As soon as Congress ratifies the 
compact the Reclamation Bureau will be ready to begin surveys 
toward a $2,000,000,000 program of irrigation and power proj- 
ects. If found feasible, they will go far toward changing the face 
of the Rocky Mountain region and the economy of its civili- 

But the plea is growing among conservation men that it will 
take more than new projects to win man's battle against the 
limitations of nature in the arid West. A century of shameful 
abuse of natural resources has taken toll in directions other than 
gutted timberlands and slaughtered game. The floods which are 
causing a tragic loss of water and the silting of reservoirs have 


been more violent in recent decades because of man's own mis- 
takes. Across the mountains of the West the forest fires, the excess 
logging operations, the costly errors in plowing and overgrazing, 
have robbed the land of the protective covering it has built up 
for centuries against the process of erosion. When the rains come 
in such despoiled areas they no longer sink into the earth to serve 
as natural storage; instead they run off in sharp ravines, carrying 
part of the earth with them. If there are no dams on the rivers 
the water wastes into the ocean; if there are dams the reservoirs 
become silted up in a matter of years and the water wastes any- 

The most startling example of this process is at Hoover Dam 
itself; when built it was estimated that three hundred years would 
elapse before Lake Mead would be filled with silt. But already 
the sediment is laid down about 260 feet deep at the upper end 
of the reservoir, and some 100 feet at the dam. At this rate it is 
tentatively estimated that the lake will become useless for irriga- 
tion in a century. Other works upstream, from Bridge Canyon to 
the farthest tributaries in the upper basin, will cut down this 
alarming rate of sedimentation. But even these dams must even- 
tually be threatened by silt deposits if man does not find means 
of controlling erosion. Certainly engineers are realizing that the 
fight against water shortage in the arid West begins with con- 

East of the Mississippi, where the water table is reported to be 
rising, agriculture has as yet suffered little from America's grow- 
ing water shortage. But there are localities where farmers have 
turned from a total dependence on rain water and have taken up 
the great Western art of irrigation. Already the press of popu- 
lation has brought the first signs that a region of supposedly 
abundant supply will eventually be forced to conserve its water 
in the same way as the less fortunate West. Growing cities are 
reaching out for increased water supplies, and this means an 
inevitable elbow in the ribs of nearby agriculture. 

Greater industrialization during the war and the spread of air- 
conditioning systems have been the main burdens on Eastern 
water systems. In Illinois the city of Peoria and the suburbs of 
Chicago are losing their underground reserves from heavy fac- 
tory pumping. Throughout the Ohio Valley water shortages have 

been occurring for years. Louisville's underground levels have 
sunk forty feet in the past ten years, while at Indianapolis the 
table is down as much as fifty feet. 

Even in the semitropical South scattered shortages are reported. 
The water level is dropping at Memphis, and in Miami the with- 
drawal of underground water was causing an infiltration of sea 
water until pumping practices were brought under control. The 
same basic trouble has already affected some Northern cities 
such as Philadelphia, whose water is said to be growing steadily 
more salty. In Baltimore salt began to appear in the water at the 
beginning of the war, forcing a reduction in pumping to ease the 
invasion of the sea. 

But it was in the fall of 1949 that the industrial Northeast 
got its taste of a real water famine. Two years of subnormal rain- 
fall had made city engineers uneasy over lowered reservoir levels. 
Actual drought began in June, eased up in August and Septem- 
ber, then struck hard with roughly half the normal rainfall during 
October and November. Late in October New York's water 
officials took the first emergency steps. Public drinking fountains 
were turned off, street flushing was stopped, citizens were asked 
to conserve water and repair leaky faucets. 

By early December New York City, northern New Jersey, and 
parts of New England found themselves in the midst of a 
desperate water crisis. Already one Jersey town had drained its 
supply. While drillers rushed to deepen its wells, trucks were 
hauling in water to fill the bathtubs, buckets, and every con- 
ceivable receptacle which anxious householders had lined along 
the streets. With schools closed, factories shut down, and domestic 
heaters turned off, the citizens were finding what it meant to have 
their water system fail. By December 8, with water famine sweep- 
ing across New Jersey, the governor proclaimed a state of 
emergency and ordered strict water conservation. 

At the same time the shadow of disaster loomed as New York 
City's own reservoir levels dropped to a third of normal capacity. 
With scarcely 87,000,000,000 gallons remaining, the supply was 
dwindling at the rate of 1,000,000,000 gallons a day. At 25,000,- 
000,000 there would be no pressure for the water taps. New 
York's alarmed water commissioner, Stephen J. Carney, warned 
that unless consumption was reduced by 200,000,000 gallons a 


roughly twenty per cent water pressure would begin to 
fade by January i. Across the Big Town some 8,000,000 people 
abruptly understood that only sixty-two days separated them 
from absolute thirst. 

It had taken more than drought to bring New York to this 
predicament. World War II had interrupted work on her famed 
Delaware Project, designed to supplement her existing aqueducts 
to the Croton and Catskill watersheds. Originally authorized in 
1928, the new program would tap two tributaries of the Delaware 
and one of the Hudson. After a bitter court battle with New 
Jersey over the water of the Delaware River, New York was 
limited to 440,000,000 gallons daily from that basin. It would 
have been enough for present-day growth, however, if the war had 
not intervened. Although an emergency aqueduct from the proj- 
ect is being used now, the program will not be completed until 
1956. By that time, the engineers estimate, New York will have 
grown enough to use almost every gallon of the new supply. In- 
stead of keeping one jump ahead of itself, as a city must ordi- 
narily do in its water planning, New York now finds itself one 
jump behind. 

Thus drought, the scourge of the West, had caught the world's 
biggest city off guard. By early December Commissioner Carney 
and his water officials were hurrying to increase the city's supply 
by reopening water wells on Long Island. At the same time con- 
sumption would have to be slashed by drastic conservation. 
Washing of locomotives was halted at the railroad stations. The 
auto-washing business was outlawed. Stiffer fines were levied on 
householders for neglecting to repair leaky faucets, and "water 
wardens" were sent through the boroughs checking on violators. 

New Yorkers, exhorted to save water by the press, radio, and 
pulpit, responded heartily. Water consumption dropped by nearly 
100,000,000 gallons a day over ten per cent. But it was not 
enough to prevent New York's reservoirs from sinking nearer to 
exhaustion. By Sunday, December n, New York churchgoers 
were praying for rain. A few days later they were observing a 
"bathless Friday," when they were asked to drink one less glass of 
water, and a man's beard was "a badge of honor." Still the 
reservoirs continued to ebb; within a few days flagrant water 
wasters were being fined up to $100. 

"Our water supply," announced one judge, "is so critically low 
that drastic punishment of wasters is demanded and second 
offenders will probably get straight prison sentences." 

Then on December 27 came the first break in the crisis. It 
rained. Two thirds of an inch fell in New York, one and a half 
inches in New Jersey. For the first time in months New York's 
reservoirs rose in depth, gaining four precious days' supply. After 
that the city was over the hump of the critical stage, but the 
days that separated it from water famine could still be numbered. 
Through January, with scattered showers and some successful 
"Thirsty Thursdays," New York found its reservoir levels making 
dogged progress. The water scare was over, but Commissioner 
Carney and his officials knew the emergency was still severe. 

For several weeks the whole nation had turned its eyes on New 
York's ordeal. Cartoons and editorials on both coasts had 
compared the Big Town's water crisis with that of the South- 
west. One of California's congressmen even took the opportunity 
to point a moral for New Yorkers: they should now be able to 
understand why Southern California cities fought desperately 
for their water supplies. It was plain that the water shortage had 
suddenly grown to be a national problem. 

Nobody could deny, however, that while New York had 
dramatized the issue for Americans it was in the Southwest that 
the shortage had made its first permanent invasion. As a last 
resort New York still had its murky Hudson, but the water holes 
at the opposite corner of the nation have long been fenced and 

Near some of them the ancient ruins of the cliff dwellers and the 
Hohokam stand as imperishable monuments to former droughts 
when the region's slim water resources failed almost completely. 
They offer little alarm to a modern Southwestern society based 
on one of the most elaborate water developments in the world. 
Yet it has been said that this same society however advanced 
it may be has an air of impermanence fostered by its utter 
dependence on water. 

Probably man is too ingenious now to be caught by a disastrous 
drought, but several times in the past half century his South- 
western cities have been perilously close to thirst. Without a 


permanent solution to the water problem, would he be prepared 
for the kind of twenty-three-year drought that drove out a 
former civilization? One thing is certain: in arid lands man's 
progress has been no faster than his ability to meet his water 
needs. In the Southwest of America the foreseeable future must 
be founded on far more ingenious water developments than the 
remarkable projects its people have already seen. 


Bibliography and Acknowledgments 

The following sources, listed informally, have been the most help- 
ful in the quest of information for this book. For the sake of 
brevity, little mention is made of those standard works, en- 
gineering reports, and magazine articles which are readily found 
through most library catalogues and reader's guides. It should be 
remembered that, since participants on both sides of controversies 
have been consulted, no one of them is accountable for observa- 
tions or conclusions. 

Details on William Mulholland and early Los Angeles water 
history were gleaned from an article on Mulholland by J. B. 
Lippincott in Civil Engineering, February and March 1941; 
Irrigation in Southern California, William H. Hall (Sacramento, 
1888), which is part of a water resources report of the state en- 
gineer; and interviews with Thomas Brooks, a Los Angeles water 
official for over fifty years (Los Angeles, December 6, 1948) ; S. B. 
Robinson, identified with the Water Department's legal affairs 
since 1906 (Los Angeles, February 24, 1949) ; Burt Heinley, 
Mulholland's secretary from 1907 to 1919 (Los Angeles, May 31, 
1949) ; and Miss Rose Mulholland, daughter of William Mul- 
holland, who also allowed the use of a scrapbook on her father's 
career (Los Angeles, March i, 1949). 

Information on the inception of the Los Angeles Aqueduct was 
gained from the Report of the Aqueduct Investigating Board, 
Los Angeles, August 30, 1912, which contains testimony of Mul- 
holland, W. B. Mathews, J. B. Lippincott, and others (in the 


Los Angeles Public Library) ; from "Owens Valley correspond- 
ence" in the files of the Los Angeles Department of Water and 
Power, which was made available through the courtesy of 
J. Gregg Layne, department historian; from a seven-volume 
scrapbook of newspaper clippings on the aqueduct, 1905-7, with 
the Department of Water and Power; from a pamphlet by 
Andreas B. Nordskog, Communication to the California Legis- 
lature relating to the Owens Valley Water Situation (Sacramento, 
I 93 I )j which contains quotations from Reclamation Service 
correspondence, 1904-6; from documents in the Los Angeles 
County records, including instruments on the Porter Ranch sale 
(option, October 13, 1903, and deed, January 13, 1905) ; from 
files of the Inyo Register, 1903-13 (microfilms at the Henry E. 
Huntington Library, San Marino) ; Inyo Independent, 19048 
(at Southwest Museum, Pasadena) ; Los Angeles Times, July- 
September 1905, June and December 1906, April-June 1907; 
Examiner, July September 1905; Express, July September 1905; 
Evening News, March-April, June 1906, March-June 1907 (all 
in Los Angeles Public Library) ; from a letter from J. G. Clausen, 
engineer in charge of the federal Owens Valley reclamation 
investigation, 1903-5 (Aromas, California, February 19, 1949) ; 
from interviews with Harry J. Lelande, Los Angeles city clerk, 
1903-10 (Los Angeles, February 23, 1949) ; and with Fred 
Eaton's sons Harold Eaton (Bishop, August 21, 1948) and 
Burdick Eaton (Los Angeles, December 3, 1948). 

Material on Los Angeles Aqueduct construction was drawn 
from the following: the Mulholland scrapbook; the Final Report 
of Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Los Angeles, 1916; 
Mulholland's Annual Reports to the Aqueduct Advisory Com- 
mittee, 1907-12 (in the Los Angeles Public Library) ; Minutes of 
the Advisory Committee of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, 1906-13 
(now with the Board of Public Works) ; files of the Los Angeles 
Times, May 1910, November-December 1911; Los Angeles 
Record, May 1912; and interviews with H. A. Van Norman, 
superintendent of the Owens Valley Division, and later chief 
engineer of the Department of Water and Power (Los Angeles, 
December 31, 1948) ; D. L. Reaburn, superintendent of the 
Saugus Division (Los Angeles, May 9, 1949) ; and George Nor- 
denholt, tunnel foreman at Sand Canyon (Los Angeles, May 5, 


The Owens Valley conflict was largely written from these 
sources: "Owens Valley correspondence," 1923-26, Department 


of Water and Power, including the useful "Proposal for Settle- 
ment with Owens Valley," submitted with accompanying data to 
the Los Angeles Clearing House Association, November 19, 1924, 
by W. W. Watterson, and the "Reply to Proposal" submitted by 
the Board of Public Service Commissioners, 1924; report of W. 
F. McClure, state engineer, concerning the Owens Valley-Los 
Angeles Controversy, Sacramento, 1925 (in Huntington Library) ; 
Story of Inyo, 2d ed., W. A. Chalfant (Bishop, 1933) ; com- 
pilations of school and voting registration statistics, Inyo County, 
for which I am grateful to Mrs. Dorothy Craven, superintendent 
of schools, and Mrs. Fay Lawrence, county clerk; files of the 
Owens Valley Herald, 1921-27; Inyo Register, 1923-28; Big 
Pine Citizen, 1923-27; Mount Whitney Observer (Lone Pine), 
192427, all of which were used through the kindness of Miss 
Anne Margrave, Inyo County librarian; selected issues of the Los 
Angeles Times, 1923-28; Examiner, 1924-27; Record, 1924-27; 
San Fernando Sun, 1923-24; and the following interviews: 
Jerome Watterson, son of W. W. Watterson (Bishop, August 25, 
1948) ; Walter Young, friend and associate of the Watterson 
brothers (Bishop, August 25, 1948) ; Charles Collins, Inyo 
County sheriff in the 19205 (Bishop, August 21, 1948); Ed 
Shepherd, former Inyo County deputy sheriff (Independence, 
August 22, 1948) ; Mrs. Frank Butler (Bishop, August 21, 1948) ; 
Ward Parcher (Bishop, May 22, 1949) ; William D. Dehy, judge 
of Superior Court, Inyo County, 1909 to present (Independence, 
May 22, 1949) ; H. A. Van Norman (Los Angeles, December 13, 
1948) ; S. B. Robinson (Los Angeles, February 24, 1949) ; 
Edward F. Leahey, Los Angeles representative in Owens Valley 
during the 19205 (Los Angeles, July n, 1948, and February 24, 
1949) ; Alfred Watterson, son of George Watterson (Los Angeles, 
August 10, 1948) ; Leicester C. Hall (Glendale, May 29, 1949) ; 
George Warren, who also provided a signed statement, dated 
July 19, 1927, describing the siege of his home a few months 
before (Los Angeles, May 29, 1949) ; and Jackson Berger, As- 
sociated Press correspondent covering Owens Valley incidents 
in the 19205 (North Hollywood, June 8, 1949). 

Sources on the San Francisquito Dam failure include various 
engineering reports, particularly the Report of the Commission 
appointed by Governor C. C. Young to Investigate Causes Lead- 
ing to Failure of St. Francis Dam (Sacramento, 1928) and San 
Francisquito Canyon Dam Disaster report to Governor G. W. P. 
Hunt of Arizona by Guy L. Jones (Phoenix, 1928) ; also the ex- 


tensive material in the Huntington Library collected by C. C. 
Teague, head of the Santa Clara Valley Citizens Relief Com- 
mittee; the Mulholland scrapbook; the article by Lippincott in 
Civil Engineering; and news stories in the Santa Paula Chronicle 
(March 13, 1928), Fillmore Herald (March 16, 1928), Fillmore 
American (March 15, 22, 1928), and Los Angeles Times (March 
14 and 22, 1928) all in Los Angeles Public Library. 

Details on the settlement of Imperial Valley and the fight 
to stop the Colorado flood of 1 905-7 were mainly gathered from 
the following: hearings before the House Committee on Irriga- 
tion of Arid Lands, March 21, 1904, on a bill for legalizing the 
appropriation and diversion of water from the Colorado River 
for irrigation purposes (in the Huntington Library) ; article by 
Charles Rockwood in the Calexico Chronicle, May 1909 (also in 
the Huntington Library) ; various hearings before the House Ju- 
diciary Committee, 1907 1 1, on a bill for reimbursing the South- 
ern Pacific Railroad for expenditures in stopping the Colorado 
flood (for the use of this and other material in the very exten- 
sive "water" collection at the Claremont Colleges Library, I am 
indebted to Dr. Willis Kerr) ; Life of George Chaff ey, J. A. 
Alexander (Melbourne, 1928) ; Salton Sea, George Kennan 
(New York, 1917); Colorado Conquest, David O. Woodbury 
(New York, 1941); selected issues of the Los Angeles Times, 
19057; Examiner, November December 1906; Express, Novem- 
berDecember 1906; and, most important of all, an interview 
with Dr. H. T. Cory, engineer in charge of closing the Colorado 
break, 1906-7 (Los Angeles, June 27, 1949), together with the 
seven volumes of photographs which he gave to the University 
of California at Los Angeles Library, and his exhaustive work on 
the subject, The Imperial Valley and the Salton Sink (San 
Francisco, 1915). 

The story of the Colorado Compact and the Boulder Canyon 
Project was largely pieced together from these sources: corre- 
spondence and other material collected by John R. Haynes, 
former chairman of the Los Angeles Board of Public Service 
Commissioners, contained in the John R. Haynes Memorial 
Foundation Library, Los Angeles; a scrapbook on Boulder Can- 
yon Project development in the Department of Water and Power 
Library; microfilm minutes of the first eighteen meetings of the 
Colorado River Commission, January-November 1922, obtained 
from the National Archives, Washington, D.C.; typewritten 
minutes of the twenty-sixth meeting, at Claremont Colleges 

Library; an article by Arnold Kruckman in the Los Angeles mag- 
azine, Saturday Night (November 18, 1922) ; correspondence, 
minutes, and publications of the Boulder Dam Association, 1923- 
28, in the care of Mrs. Burdett Moody, Los Angeles; hearings 
before the Senate and House Irrigation and Reclamation com- 
mittees, 1919-28, on protection and development of the lower 
Colorado River basin, of which the most helpful were those be- 
fore the House committee, Sixth-eighth Congress, First Session, 
1924, and the Senate committee, Sixty-ninth Congress, First 
Session, 1925-26 (almost complete collections of hearings are in 
the Department of Water and Power Library and the Claremont 
Colleges Library) ; the Congressional Record, February 1927, 
April-May, December 1928; Problems of Imperial Valley and 
Vicinity (Senate Document 142, U. S. Printing Office, 1922) ; 
Hoover Dam Documents, Ray Lyman Wilbur and Northcutt Ely, 
(U. S. Printing Office, 1948) ; Colorado River Compact, Reuel 
L. Olson (Los Angeles, 1926) ; an extensive file of Los Angeles 
and Phoenix newspaper clippings of the 19205, in the Claremont 
Colleges Library; a scrapbook of Boulder Canyon Project clip- 
pings, 192631, at the University of Southern California Library; 
selected issues of the Los Angeles Times and Examiner, 192022; 
a letter from Charles P. Squires, joint commissioner from Nevada 
on the 1922 Colorado River Commission (Las Vegas, April 14, 
I 95) > an d finally from interviews with Senator William J. Carr, 
who was chief counsel for the Boulder Dam Association (Pasa- 
dena, September 24, 1949) ; H. C. Gardett, former Los Angeles 
Department of Water and Power official (South Pasadena, Oc- 
tober i, 1949) ; and an especially valuable four-hour talk with 
Phil D. Swing, co-author of the Boulder Canyon Project Act 
(San Diego, November 6, 1949). 

Construction of the Boulder Canyon Project features is well 
covered in the Construction of Hoover Dam, Ray Lyman Wilbur 
and Elwood Mead (U. S. Printing Office, 1935) ; So Boulder 
Dam Was Built, George A. Pettitt (Berkeley, 1935), which 
was published by Six Companies for political purposes, but 
which is invaluable for detailed episodes; various publications 
of the Metropolitan Water District, including History and First 
Annual Report, June 30, 1938 (Los Angeles, 1939), The Colo- 
rado Aqueduct (Los Angeles, 1939), and The Great Aqueduct 
(Los Angeles, 1941) ; the special Colorado Aqueduct edition of 
Engineering News-Record, November 24, 1938; the scrapbook on 
Boulder Canyon Project development in the Department of 


Water and Power Library; and the large file of newspaper clip- 
pings on the same subject in the Glaremont Colleges Library. 
Best coverage of the "Arizona Navy" incident is in Chester 
Hanson's dispatches to the Los Angeles Times, March and 
November 1934. 

Information on the Mexican treaty was gained largely from 
the following: hearings before the Senate Committee on Foreign 
Relations, Seventy-ninth Congress, First Session (Water Treaty 
with Mexico, 1945) ; a bound compilation of Arguments, Memo- 
randa and Information by Opponents and Proponents of Treaty, 
Department of Water and Power (Los Angeles, 1945) ; the Con- 
gressional Record, April 1945; interviews with S. B. Robinson, 
former member of the Committee of Sixteen (San Marino, 
October i, 1949) ; and Arvin Shaw, assistant attorney general of 
California, who also made available the Proceedings of the Com- 
mittee of Sixteen at the crucial meeting in Santa Fe, April 14-16, 
1943 (Los Angeles, December 19, 1949). 

The present California- Arizona controversy and the existing 
status of water development in the Southwest may be traced in 
these congressional hearings: Reauthorizing the Gila Project, 
House Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation, Seventy- 
ninth Congress, Second Session, 1946; Bridge Canyon Project, 
Senate Subcommittee on Irrigation and Reclamation, Eightieth 
Congress, First Session, 1947; and others on Colorado River 
Water Rights and the Central Arizona Project, 1948-49, which 
offer an exhaustive treatment of both sides of the dispute, and 
which are available in most university libraries. Other infor- 
mation was gained from files of the Los Angeles Times, 1948-50; 
from material kindly furnished by the San Diego Water Authority 
and the Santa Barbara City Water Department; from a com- 
prehensive letter from Charles A. Carson, chief counsel for the 
Arizona Interstate Streams Commission (Washington, D.C., 
February 18, 1950) ; and from interviews with Don Kinsey, chief 
of public relations for the Metropolitan Water District; Robert 
Lee, public relations secretary for the California Colorado River 
Association; and Gilbert Nelson, attorney for the California 
Colorado River Board (all in Los Angeles, December 19, 1949). 

For the use of photographs I am indebted to the Los Angeles 
Department of Water and Power, Los Angeles Public Library, 
UCLA Library, Ingersoll-Rand Company, and the Colorado 
River Association. 

Lastly I want to thank my wife, Margaret, for invaluable help 
in research over a two-year period. 


Ainsworth, Ed, 279 
Alabama Gates, 85ff., 99, 107 
Alamo River, 143, 148, 153 
All-American Canal, 17 iff., 177, 

I 95-9^y J 99> 20I > 24off., 250, 

269, 274-75 

Arizona ground water code, 260 
Arizona Navy, 2341!. 
Arkansas River, 290 
Arrowhead Lake, 10 
Arrowrock Dam, 230 
Ashurst, Henry, 202, 2o8ff., 2145. 

Bacon, John L., 195-96 
Baltimore Sun, 253 
Bank of America, 1012, 114 
Bannister, L. Ward, 1781!., 207, 


Beaudry, Prudent, 14-15 
Bee River, 168, 170 
Big Bear Lake, 9 
Big Pine Citizen, 74, 85 
Big Thompson River, 289 
Bill Williams River, 142, 2335. 
Bishop Creek Ditch, 70, 95 
Blythe, Samuel, 136 
Bonneville Dam, 283 
Boom of the eighties, 12-13, 15 


Boom of the twenties, 94 

Boulder Canyon Project Act, 217, 

219, 230, 241, 246, 258, 262ff. 
Boulder Dam. See Hoover Dam 
Boulder Dam Association, 196, 

198, 205, 211 
Brand, L. C., 33, 37 
Bridge Canyon Dam, 192, 261, 

266, 278 

Brooks, Thomas, 1 6, 34 
Burkholder, J. L., 270-71 
Bush, Joe, 234, 236 
Bush, Nellie, 234 

Cachuma Dam, 268 

California Development Company, 

i4ifL, 145-46, i48ff., 155, 161, 

1 68 
California Limitation Act, 217, 

228, 262ff. 

Cameron, Ralph, 2o8ff. 
Carney, Stephen J., 2g2ff. 
Carpenter, Delph, 175-76, I78ff., 

1850., 189, 206, 264 
Carrillo, Jack, 154, 156, i62ff. 
Carson, Charles A., 263-64 
Catskill Aqueduct, 5 

Central Arizona Project, 26 iff., 
273ff., 289 

Central Arizona Project Associa- 
tion, 281 

Central Valley Project, 280 

Chaff ey, Andrew, 14 iff. 

Chaffey, George, 8-9, 139, i4iff., 

Chalfant, Willie A., 30, 36, 39, 
76,99, no-ii, 126, 133-34 

Chandler, Harry, 67, 171-72, 194, 
200, 205, 208, 246 

Chapman, Oscar, 278 

Citizens Colorado River Commit- 
tee, 229 

Clarke, C. K., 162-63, 165 

Clausen, J. C., 22, 28 

Cliff dwellers, 3-4, 294 

Clinton, De Witt, 4 

Clover, Samuel T., 4off. 

Cocopah Indians, 140 

Collins, Charles, 77-78, 81, 856% 

90, 92-93 
Colorado Aqueduct, 199, 228ff., 

Colorado River, 5, 13, 18, 94, 

I37ff., 1 86 et passim 
Colorado River Association, 280 
Colorado River Board, 274 
Colorado River Commission, 176, 

iSoff., iSsff. 
Colorado River Compact, i76ff., 

1855., 198 et passim, 247, 257- 

58, 262ff. 

Colorado River League, 178 
Columbia River, 282-83 
Committee of Fourteen, 247!!. 
Connally, Tom, 253-54 
Coolidge, Calvin, 121, 146, 197, 


Coolidge Dam, 259, 260 
Cory, Harry T., 1555., 223 
Croton Aqueduct, 45 
Crowe, Frank T., 2igff. 
Crowley, John J., 132-33 
Crowley Lake, 133 


Cryer, George, 122 
Curtis, Charles, 214 
Cuyamaca Dam, 13 

Davis, Arthur P., 12, 31, 173, 177, 

179-80, 193, 200, 227 
Dawes, Charles, 210, 214 
Dehy, William D., 87, 1 12 
Delaware Project, 293 
Delaware River, 293 
Dodson, "One-Eyed," 73 
Douglas, Lewis, 212-13 
Downey, Sheridan, 252ff., 278, 

280, 286 
Drought, 3, 7ff., n, i8ff., 34, 66, 

68, 72, 79, 94, 126, 128, 169, 

197-98, 244, 259-60, 266ff., 287, 


Earl, Edwin T., 32-33, 40, 60 
Eaton, Fred, 18-19, 2 iff., 28ff., 
63-64, 66-67, IIO > 126-27, 

Eaton, Harold, 26, 29, 66, no 
Eaton Land and Cattle Company, 


Edinger, F. S., 150 
Eel River, 283 
Eisenhower, D wight, 285 
Elephant Butte Dam, 174 
Elizabeth Tunnel, 45, 47-48, 52- 

53, 59-6o, 237 
Emerson, Frank, 205 
Evans, Sam C., 196, 211 

Fall, Albert B., 177-78 
Fall-Davis Report, 177, 181, 186 
Finney Resolution, 205-6 
First National Bank of Bishop, 68 
Flint, Frank P., 356". 
Floods, 6-7, 13-14, ii7ff., 140, 
i47ff., 184, 212, 222-23, 290-91 
Forest Service, U. S., 38 

Gardner, Ed, 267 

Garner, John N., 212-13, 241 

Garvey, Dan E., 279-80 
Geological Survey, U. S., 11, 173, 


Gibraltar Dam, 267-68 
Gila Project, 262-63, 265-66, 289 
Gila River, 140, 147-48, 150, 157, 

159-60, iGsff., 169, 1 86, 189-90, 

194, 203, 208, 258-59, 262ff. 
Glasscock, Carl B., 76 
Glasscock, Harry, 76, 81-82, 85, 

87, g6ff., 103, 105, 107-8, no, 


Glasscock, Mrs. Harry, 88 
Glen Canyon Dam, 261 
Grand Coulee Dam, 282 
Granite Reef Dam, 260 
Grant, Heber J., 215 
Gray, John, 47-48 
Green River, 138 
Gunnison River, 138 

Haiwee Dam, 56, 97, 106 
Hall, Leicester C., 70, 75, 77-78 
Hansen, A. C., 49-50 
Harding, Warren G., 180 
Harper, A. C., 40-41, 43 
Harriman, Edward H., 148-49, 

151-52, i6iff., 167 
Harriman, Job, 42-43, 55 
Hatfield, George M., 13, 285-86 
Hayden, Carl, 183, 212, 2141!., 

241-42, 246, 276ff., 281 
Haynes, John R., 196 
Hearst, William Randolph, 29, 34, 

80, 196, 211 
Heber, Anthony H., 141, 145-46, 


Hession, Jess, 81,91, 112, 114 
Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, 6 
Highline Canal, i92ff., 258, 260 
Hind, Tom, 157, 159-60, 162 
Hitchcock, Ethan A., 36-37 
Hohokam Indians, 3-4, 294 
Hoover, Herbert, i8ofL, iSsff., 

200, 205, 217-18 
Hoover (Boulder) Dam, 173, 

175!*., 187, 189, 194 et passim, 


235, 239, 241, 244fL, 253, 273- 

74, 291 

Howard, James, 263 
Hudson River, 293-94 
Hull, Cordell, 248 
Hunt, George W. P., 191-92, 203- 

Huntington, Henry E., 21, 33 

Ickes, Harold, 2351!., 241 
Imperial Canal, 143, 146, 148, 

150, 1 66, 171,243,245 
Imperial Dam, 243, 262 
Imperial and Gulf Railroad, 143 
Imperial Irrigation District, i68ff., 

201, 205, 241-42, 244, 275 

Imperial Press, 142-43 

Industrial Workers of the World, 

International Boundary Commis- 

sion, 248 
Inyo County Bank, 26, 68-69, IOI ~ 

2, 105, 1 1 iff. 
Inyo Independent, 39, 74 
Inyo Register, 31, 39, 76, 99, 110- 

11, 126, 134 
Ivins, Anthony W., 215, 217 

Jawbone siphon, 56ff. 
Johnson, Hiram, 184, 196, 199, 
201-2, 2056% 214, 216-17, 242, 

Julia B., 234ff. 

Kaiser, Henry J., 219 
Kansas vs. Colorado, 175 
Keough, Karl, 76, 83, 85-86, 88, 

95,99, 103 

Kerr, Robert S., 278-79 
Kincaid Act, 177 
King, William H., 206, 2i4ff. 
Kings River, 18 
Klamath River, 283 
Knowland, William, 280 
Krick, Irving, 285-86 
Krug, Julius, 275, 277 
Ku Klux Klan, 76-77, 79, 97 

Laguna Dam, 138, 171 

La Rue, E. G., aooff. 

League of the Southwest, 175-76, 

Leahey, Edward F., 79, 82, 86-87, 

g6ff., 101-2, 104-5, no, 129 
Leatherwood, Elmer O., 207, 211- 


Lee Ferry, 186, 255 
Lelande, Harry J., 27-28 
Lippincott, Joseph B., 22, 25, 28ff., 
39, 42ff., 50, 52, 58, 62, 83, 145, 


Little Bear Project, 9-10 
Little Colorado River, 200, 221- 

Long Valley Dam, 63!!., 73, 131, 


Los Angeles (Owens River) Aque- 
duct, 23ff., 31, 39ff., 7ifL, 81, 
85*?., i05ff., 115, 127, 181, 197- 
98, 229, 237, 270, 272, 282 

Los Angeles Chamber of Com- 
merce, 41, 45-46, 50, 83, 205 

Los Angeles City Water Company, 
i5ff., 20 

Los Angeles Clearing House Asso- 
ciation, 89, 9 iff. 

Los Angeles Daily News, 284 

Los Angeles Department of Water 
and Power, 17, 25, 31, 65, 70- 
71, 74-75, 79, 87, 92, 94, 97 et 
passim, 177-78, W> 205, 229, 

Los Angeles Evening News, 4off. 

Los Angeles Examiner, 29, 32, 34, 


Los Angeles Express, 32, 60, 89 
Los Angeles Herald, 81 
Los Angeles vs. Pomeroy and 

Hooker, 19 

Los Angeles Record, 83, 89, 109 
Los Angeles River, 8, 14, i8ff., 29, 

34,40,42,61, 68 
Los Angeles Times, 28ff., 32, 40, 

41, 55, 60, 67, 81, 89, 107-8, 

in, 161, 171, 192, 196, 205, 
208, 233-34, 279-80 

Mathews, William B., 23-24, 26- 
27, 35-36, 44, 50, 55, 64-65, 
72ff., 83, 85ff., 90, 94, 97, 101, 
106, 1 10, 177, 179, 185, 187-88, 
196, 217, 249 

Mathews, Lake, 230, 239 

Matthew, Raymond, 274 

Maxwell, George H., n, 192-93, 
!95 203, 258, 260 

Mayo, Morrow, 127 

McClure, Wilbur F., 93, 181, 185- 
86, 1 88 

McFarland, Ernest W., 254-55, 

262, 274ff., 281 
McKellar, Kenneth, 276 
McNally Ditch, 70-71, 75 ff., 80 
McNamara brothers, 55 
Mead, Elwood, 218, 220, 246 
Mead Lake, 227, 291 
Metropolitan Water District, 198- 

99, 228ff., 233-34, 236, 238ff., 
252, 261, 263, 269, 27iff., 282 
Mexican Water Treaty, 2456% 

263, 272, 276 

Millikin, Eugene, 253-54, 273 

Mix, Tom, 88 

Moeur, B. B., 232-33, 235-36 

Moffat Tunnel, 5 

Mojave River, 9 

Mono Craters Tunnel, 132 

Mono Lake, 22, 132 

Morena Reservoir, 13 

Mulholland, Rose, 124, 131 

Mulholland, William, i5ff., 28, 
33 ff, 39, 4 2ff, 5 8ff, 67-68, 79 ff., 
86, 94, 106, 116-17, * 2 iff., 
i29ff., 177, 193, 197-98, 229fL, 

Mulholland, Mrs. William, 61, 63 

Mulholland Dam, 1 23 

Murdock, John R., 262, 264, 276 

National Reclamation Act, u, 
144, 192 

National Reclamation Association, 

192, 195 
Nellie T., 234 
New River, 152, 154, 161 
New York Post, 253 
New York Times, 218 
No Name siphon, 105-6, 108 
Nordskog, A. B., 109 
North Platte River, 1 74 
Norviel, Winfield S., 181, 186-87, 

"People's Investigating Board," 55, 


Phillips, John, 264 
Phipps, Lawrence, 209, 216 
Pima Indians, 274 
Pinchot, Gifford, 37, 38 
Platt, H. V, 154 
Platte River, 5 
Pomeroy, F. I., 233fT. 
Porter, George K., 33 
Powell, John Wesley, 138, 173 

Ockerson levee, 168 

Osborn, Sidney P., 257-58, 260, 

Otis, Harrison Gray, 32-33, 37, 

40-41, 60, 67 
Owens Lake, 19, 23-24, 91, 107, 

Owens River, 18, 22ff., 28ff., 61, 

66-67, 7 off., 83, 85, 87, 94, 101, 

115-16, 127, isiff. 
Owens River and Big Pine Canal, 

70-7I. 75-76, 80 
Owens River Canal, 70, 76, 95- 

96,98, 104, 125 
Owens Valley Herald, 76, 82, 85, 

98, 105, 113 
Owens Valley Irrigation District, 

70, 72, 75-76, 84-85, 89, 92, 

95. * '3 

Owens Valley Property Owners 
Protective Association, 100, 102, 

Pace, Frank, Jr., 277 

Pacific Electric Railway, 21, 149 

Pacific Light and Power Com- 
pany, 39 

Pacific Southwest Trust and Sav- 
ings Bank, 130 

Paiute Indians, 18 

Palmer, Harlan J., 1 25 

Parker Dam, 2326% 261 

Pathfinder Dam, 1 74 

Pecos River, 290 


Rain making, 13, 14, 284!!. 
Randolph, Epes, 149*1"., i55~5 6 > 

158-59, 161, 164, 166 
Reclamation Service (Bureau), 

U. S., ii-i2, 21-22, 25, 28, 30- 

3i, 35. i38-39 H5. ^ff., i77> 

181, 202, 218 et passim, 26off., 

268-69, 274-75, 283, 290 
Red Rock Tunnel, 49 
Reparations law, 96 
Richardson, Friend W., 90-91, 93 
Rickey, Thomas B., 24, 26 
Rio Grande, 174, 212, 248, 251- 


Robinson, S. B., 87-88 
Rockwood, Charles, 139!!., 144*!., 

i55ff., 161, 1 66, i68ff., 243 
Rockwood head gate, 150, 156!!. 
Rogue River, 284 
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 227, 241- 

42, 248, 269 
Roosevelt, Theodore, 11-12, 30, 

36ff., 162-63, 167 
Roosevelt Dam, 12, 259 
Rose, H. H., 63 
Rose, Mark, 17 iff., 177, 179, 185, 

187-88, 191, 205, 242, 244, 249, 


Sacramento Union, 100 
St. Francis Dam, n6ff. 
St. Vallier, 156 
Salt Lake Railroad, 1 64 

Salton Sea, 148, 152, 155, 161-62, 


Salt River, 11-12, 140, 192, 259 
Salt River Valley Water Users 

Association, 12 

San Carlos project, 200, 259-60 
Sand Canyon siphon, 5960 
San Diego Aqueduct, 26gff. 
San Diego County Water Author- 

ity, 249, 270-71 
San Diego River, 12 
San Fernando Mission Land Com- 

pany, 33, 40-41 
San Francisco Call, 80 
San Francisco Chronicle, 108 
San Gabriel River, 8, 40 
San Jacinto Tunnel, 230-31, 2376% 


Santa Ana River, 8-9, 273 
Santa Barbara County Water 

Agency, 268 

Santa Clara River, 116, u8ff. 
Santa Fe Railroad, 164, 198, 224 
Santa Ynez River, 267-68 
Scattergood, E. F., 177, 197, 249 
Searchlight, 156, 160-61, 163, 166 
Sea water, distillation, 287-88 
Seven Party Water Agreement, 

228, 275 

Sexton, Perry, 105, 107, 116 
Shaw, Arvin, 24950 
Sherman, Moses H., 33 
Six Companies, Inc., 2i8ff., 227, 

Six-state Compact, 204ff., 217 
Smith, Sylvester C., 35ff. 
Smoot, Reed, 207, 214-15!!. 
Soil Report of 1902, 144, 275 
Southern California Edison Com- 

pany, 1 1 8, 177 
Southern Pacific Railroad, 48, 107, 

121, i42ff., 1486% 159, 161-62, 

164, 1 66, 243 
Southern Sierras Power Company, 

37, 131. 177 
Stone, Clifford H., 250 


Swing, Phil, 172-73, 177, 

183-84, 193, 196, igSff., 207-8, 
2 1 iff., 2i5ff., 24off., 244ff., 249 

Swing- Johnson bill, 183!?., ig6ff. 

Symons, William, 70, 77 

Taft, William Howard, 39, 167- 

Tammany Hall, 213 

Teague, Charles C., 121-22 

Tecolote Tunnel, 268 

Title Guarantee and Trust Com- 
pany, 33 

Trinity River, 283 

Truman, Harry, 277 

Tuolumne River, 6 

Twain, Mark, 200, 284 

Umpqua River, 284 

Uncompahgre River, 138 

Union Pacific Railroad, 156, 197, 

215, 220 
Upper Basin Compact, 290 

Van Norman, Harvey A., 53, 56ff., 
72ff., 83, 85, 94, 98, 1 06, 117, 
122-23, : 33 

Van Norman, Mrs. Harvey A., 58 

Ventura River, 266 

Virgin River, 140, 200, 221-22 

Volcano Lake, 150, 161, 168, 184 

Wallace, Lew, 190 
Warren, Earl, 265-66, 281 
Warren, George, 72ff., 78, iO2ff. 
Watterson, Alfred, 77 
Watterson, Eliza, 69 
Watterson, George, 69-70, 77, 102 
Watterson, Mark Q., 26, 68ff., 76- 

77, 85-86, 95-96, 98-99, 101-2, 

105, 107, logff., 129-30 
Watterson, Wilfred W., a6ff., 36, 

68ff., 8 3 fL, 8gfL, 95-96, g8ff., 

105, 107, logff., 129-30 
Watterson, William, 69 

Wells Fargo Bank, 1 1 1 Wright Act, 10-1 1 

Western Federation of Miners, Wyoming vs. Colorado, 175-76, 

53-54 l8 3> 185 
Weymouth, Frank, 202, 2306% 

237ff. Yakima project, 139 

"Whistling Dick," 57-58 Young, G. C., 109 

Wilbur, Ray Lyman, 218, 2 20 Young, Walter, 95, 102-3, 1 12 

Woods, Will C., 1 02, no, 112 Yuma Water Users Association, 

Wozencraft, Oliver, 140 169 


Los Angeles gets first 
Owens River Water, 1913 

' Ranchers dynamite 
aqueduct, 1927 

St. Francis Dam fails, 1 928 

Concreting at 
Hoover Dam, 1 934 

Drought intensifies 
Colorado controversy, 1 948 

San Francisco fights Colorado flood, 1906